Opposition party Kuomintang (KMT) on Sunday said it would initiate a referendum against the easing of restrictions on U.S. beef and pork imports.

In a surprising news conference last month, President Tsai Ing-wen declared that Taiwan would allow imports of U.S. beef over 30 months old as well as pork containing ractopamine, a leanness-enhancing additive.

“I trust that if we can take this key step regarding U.S. beef and pork issues, it will be an important starting point for more comprehensive Taiwan-U.S. economic cooperation,” she said.

Despite the latest breakthrough in Taiwan-U.S. trade relations, food safety concerns have triggered domestic political debate in Taiwan.

KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang criticized President Tsai for rushing through the decision without inquiring into public opinion. He also accused Tsai and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of having “double standards” by accepting ractopamine in pork imports while banning it domestically.

“The DPP government may find itself stuck between a rock and a hard place, and end up with nothing,” the KMT said in a press release. “We are afraid that the DPP government will accept whatever the Trump government demands in the future trade talks.”

Beef and pork imports have been a recurring controversy in Taiwan, especially since the ractopamine ban in 2006. Racoptamine, which belongs to a class of growth drugs called beta agonists, can speed up the animal’s heart rate and stimulate aggressive behaviors. The use of this drug in animal feed is banned or regulated in at least 160 countries including China, Russia, and the European Union.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare had once announced the easing of restrictions on ractopamine in 2007, the last year of former President Chen Shui-bian’s office term. But the proposal was rescinded after pig farmers protested by throwing rotten eggs and pig feces at the ministry office.

逾30月齡美牛將開放進口 陳時中說明 

Photo Credit: CNA

Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung at a press conference, September 5, 2020.

In 2012, the Ma Ying-jeou administration set a maximum acceptable residual level of ractopamine in beef, but kept the ban for pork.

President Tsai’s decision to ease beef and pork import restrictions may have come as one of the many steps toward securing a free trade agreement with the United States. Food & Water Watch, a U.S.-based NGO, wrote in a report that the U.S. government was “so committed to the use of ractopamine to increase livestock production that it’s pursuing trade wars with countries that won’t import meat raised with the drug.”

After Tsai’s statement on lifting the restrictions, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo applauded her on Twitter, saying that the move “opens the door for even deeper economic and trade cooperation” between Taiwan and the United States.

Taiwan’s Health Minister Chen Shih-chung announced on September 5 the safety limits for residual ractopamine in imported U.S. pork. Since the Taiwanese diet generally involves pork, the government would adopt stricter local standards than what was set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. Pig’s kidneys are especially regulated out of concerns that some women in Taiwan tend to consume the products in large quantities during postpartum recovery, Chen said.

Neighboring countries that share similar diets with Taiwan, such as Japan and South Korea, have already opened up for imports of pork containing ractopamine in recent years.

The safety regulations, however, may not apply to processed foods such as sausages and meat floss. Local manufacturers could opt for imported pork containing ractopamine to reduce costs.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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