- On 22 August 2007, some 3,500 Taiwanese pig farmers held a demonstration in front of the Department of Health to protest against a possible easing of the ban on ractopamine use in livestock.
Taipei Times | Sun, Jul 10, 2011
Officials indicate ractopamine ban remains in place
By Shih Hsiu-chuan / Staff Reporter
Taiwan is in no hurry to lift the ban on a lean growth-enhancing agent, the cause of a major trade dispute with the US, as the international food standards setting body again failed to advance maximum residue limits (MRLs) for the additive, government officials said yesterday.
For the fourth consecutive year, the 34th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, under the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and WHO, on Thursday stalled a decision on MRLs for ractopamine, a feed additive used to promote leanness in pork and beef, after those in attendance were unable to reach a consensus.
Following the decision, Taiwan, which prohibits the use of ractopamine, said that its ban, which was introduced in 2006, would remain in place.
“We have no plan to change our zero-tolerance policy against the use of ractopamine in meat products,” Minister Without Portfolio Yiin Chii-ming (尹啟銘) said by telephone.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in March charged Yiin with the task of reopening negotiations with the US under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) platform after the US unexpectedly put a hold on talks originally scheduled to resume in late January over the ractopamine issue.
The TIFA talks, which started in 1994, have been suspended since 2007, in response to Taiwan banning imports of US beef over fears of mad cow disease.
“As the Codex once again failed to approve the use of ractopamine, it is not a matter of pressing importance to revise our zero-tolerance policy. It will take more time to solicit public opinion on the issue, as people remain concerned about the health risks associated with the drug,” Yiin said.
Department of Health (DOH) Vice Minister Hsiao Mei-ling (蕭美玲), who is in charge of setting allowable levels of food additives, said: “The issue is not high on the agency’s agenda.”
One year after the signing of a protocol that allows imports of US bone-in beef, the US agreed to resume TIFA negotiations with Taiwan in October last year, but an incident in which a shipment of US beef was found to contain traces of ractopamine on Jan. 16 derailed the agreement.
It was the first time ractopamine was detected in US beef since it was listed as a banned additive.
In a book published last week, former minister of health Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良), who left office in early February, said that US beef was exempt from ractopamine residue testing before the establishment of Taiwan Food and Drug Administration (TFDA) under the auspices of the ministry on Jan. 1 last year.
Yaung said the exemption was the result of a promise made by then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to the US when in January 2006 he relaxed existing rules to permit imports of US boneless beef, which had been banned since July 2005 following the discovery of a second case of mad cow disease case in the US.
Speaking by telephone, an officer at the Bureau of Standards, Metrology and Inspection, in charge of inspecting imported food before the TFDA was established, confirmed Yaung’s claim that US beef was not previously subject to a residue test for ractopamine.
“We tested for ractapomine residue in imported pork, but not beef as we were not authorized by the department of health to test beef. Not only US beef, but also beef from other countries,” an official surnamed Chang (張) said.
Asked to assess how the decision to maintain the ban on ractopamine would affect the resumption of TIFA talks, Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Lin Sheng-chung (林聖忠) said: “it’s difficult to say.”
“On whether to revise the zero-tolerance policy, our position remains that we will follow Codex guidelines after it takes action on the adoption of MRLs for ractopamine,” Lin said.
Ractopamine is approved for safe use in animal feed in 26 countries, including the US, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Mexico, the Philippines and South Korea.
Following the Codex decision, the Chief Agricultural Negotiator of the US Trade Representative and US Department of Agriculture Acting Under Secretary Michael Scuse issued a joint statement.
“We are extremely disappointed in the inability of Codex to reach consensus based on the volumes of scientific evidence presented to support international maximum residue limits on ractopamine. Political considerations should not cloud the decisions of an internationally recognized food safety authority. Today’s inaction is a set-back for codex, science and fair trade,” it said. “The safety of ractopamine has been confirmed three times by Codex’s own panel of international scientists. The United States and a broad array of Codex members in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific Islands supported the adoption of the standard, but other members blocked advancement due to non-science questions outside the mandate of Codex,”
The EU, China, Thailand and Taiwan currently impose “unjustified trade barriers” on US trade in beef and pork due to the use of ractopamine,” the statement added.