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With beef war over, let the squabble over pork begin

Publication Date : 12-07-2012


The beef war between Taiwan and the United States is over. Though a peace treaty has yet to be signed during an extraordinary session of the Legislative Yuan at the end of this month, the maximum residue limit (MRL) for leanness-enhancing ractopamine in beef and beef products the Codex Alimentarius Commission set last week ended Taiwan's internecine war in the Legislature, which shouldn't have occurred in the first place.

Taiwan bans ractopamine, an additive to feed for livestock. It isn't banned in the United States, an exporter of beef and pork. Uncle Sam wants to sell beef and pork with ractopamine residue all over the world, but many countries — including Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and China as well as the European Union — have refused to buy.

Of late, Japan agreed to import ractopamine-enhanced beef without much fuss, while South Korea followed suit after beef cattle and swine raisers took to the streets to protest. Washington urged Taipei to follow Japan's example to lift the ban on US beef and beef products and President Chen Shui-bian complied in 2007 by getting his Department of Health to set the MRL, and his Council of Agriculture to inform the World Trade Organisation that Taiwan would import American beef with ractopamine residue under that MRL, which is the same 10 ppb (parts per billion) that the Codex finally approved.

It was the Kuomintang in opposition then that was up in arms against the US beef imports, starting the beef war across the Pacific. The Chen government used the Kuomintang objection as an excuse for refusing to issue an executive order to lift the ban on imports from the United States to avenge a slur Washington had cast upon him. Then there was a truce, during which the government let US beef with ractopamine residue come to Taiwan without inspection.

That fragile truce came to an end after the Kuomintang came to power. It's the turn of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party to bring an all-out effort to object to American beef imports in the name of defense of the public against the “poisonous American beef”.

The beef war resumed with a vengeance, as the Kuomintang government lied again and again that it wasn't being pressured by Uncle Sam to lift the ban to resume negotiations on the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement between the two countries, and there was no timetable for an end to the ban. Worse still, the government decided not to lift the ban by an executive order but instead through amending the Food Safety Act.

As a result, the Legislative Yuan became the battlefield and the opposition party lawmakers occupied its podium for the last five days of its first regular session to boycott the final deliberation and a vote on the amendment that would lead to the lifting of the ban.

With Kuomintang lawmakers averse to joining in the battle for lame duck President Ma Ying-jeou, who doubles as chairman of the governing party, the session ended ignominiously without Speaker Wang Jin-pyng declaring its adjournment. To meet the US timetable, Ma couldn't help but ask Wang to hold the extraordinary session before the end of last month to at least pass the amendment, but an unexpected typhoon was forecast for the day it would open and was postponed, though the tropical rainstorm didn't even sideswipe Taipei.

Looking back, the people of Taiwan have come to realise all the infighting is much ado about nothing. It is now universally acknowledged that meat with ractopamine residue under the MRL is no health hazard as opposition party leaders and their bought scholars and experts have described.

As a matter of fact, it doesn't take the CAC to set a safety standard, because the Americans have been eating ractopamine-enhanced beef and pork for a long time without any fatalities reported. What's good for the Americans to eat is just as good for the people of Taiwan to eat. There should be no argument. American beef was a non-issue from the very beginning, and those who are afraid of being contaminated at all can refuse to eat it to have a peace of mind. Well, President Ma made that suggestion, too.

Now that the beef war has come to an end, the opposition party is looking for another internecine war over American pork and pork products. The Ma government has promised to lift the ban on American beef and beef products alone.

So, the Democratic Progressive Party and its ally Taiwan Solidarity Union will start the pork war, when the United States brings pressure to bear on Taiwan to buy meat and meat products of swine kept on feeds with ractopamine added.


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