Ractopamine, a leanness-enhancing feed additive, is banned in Taiwan and more than 150 other countries; some shipments of United States (US) beef were banned from entering Taiwan upon discovering traces of ractopamine in meat last year.
However, under pressure from the US government, the newly elected Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou is now considering lifting the ban. Taiwanese consumers and farmers are unhappy about such a move and a civic coalition has been established to counteract it.
Ractopamine was developed by an American pharmaceutical company, Elanco Animal Health, a division of Eli Lilly and Company. It is used in the feeding of pigs, cows and turkeys for improving “feed efficiency” and enhancing “carcass leanness” in meat. The Food Standards Agency, Codex Alimentarius, did not have a consensus on the maximal residual level (MRL) of ractopamine yet. The Codex Alimentarius will continue its discussion on the MRL of ractopamine in July, 2012.
US beef has been one of the most controversial issues in its free trade negotiations with other countries. Recently, Japan has also opened its beef market and allowed ractopamine to be present in the imported meat, but banning the use of ractopamine in domestic pork and beef production.
A similar understanding has taken place between the US and Taiwan under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) since mid 2000. The US government has been pressuring Taiwan to lift the ban on ractopamine and the restriction imposed on US beef after the outbreak of mad cow disease in 2003.
However, the evaluation of the MRL of ractopamine in 2006 failed to remove ractopamine as banned drug against the background of the social panic raised by the clenbuterol poisoning incidence that happened in China. In 2007, when the government again tried to lift the ban on ractopamine, the then opposing party, Kuomingtang, in Legislative Yuan stood by the country's pig farmers [zh] and stopped the motion.
Don Shapiro from the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei revealed that the Kuomingtang, under the pressure from the US government, would started to work on lifting the ban on ractopmine again after they won the presidential election in 2012:
The U.S. government by early 2011 was willing to start preparations to resume TIFA talks. Then another obstacle arose when Taiwan rejected some shipments of beef found to contain traces of the leanness-enhancing feed additive ractopamine…Whenever questions were raised last year about finding a solution to the impasse, Taiwan officials responded that nothing could be done before this January’s elections, for fear of sparking protests from consumer and farming groups that could escalate into a campaign issue.
An international academic conference on the additive organized by the Department of Health in April and May 2012, has been criticized [zh] as the government's attempt to educate the public on the safety of ractopamine and create a public consensus on the ban lifting. In reaction to the government's move, more than 20 civic groups, from the consumer, animal rights, environment and agriculture sectors, have formed a coalition [zh] to stop it.
Citizen media reactions
One of anti-US beef corner's concern is about the adverse effect of the additive on human health and food security. Although there are studies showing that the acceptable daily intake of ractopamine is up to 60mg, Taiwanese toxicology expert, Dr. Lin has pointed out [zh] that this level is set for healthy people because the human study of ractopamine is not considered to be complete. For those who have cardiovascular disease, a 6mg acceptable daily intake might still be too much.
Citizen reporter, Cliteir Chen from News Market points out [zh] that the government should not betray people's health for diplomatic consideration:
Because the FDA has received a lot of complaints from the pig raisers who fed their pigs with ractopamine, animal rights activists have also joined the debate [zh]:
Yu Fu-Ching from News Market reflects upon [zh] modern people's eating habit: