Taipei, May 7 (CNA) The Cabinet's proposal to allow imports of U.S. beef that contain the livestock leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine was voted down in a legislative committee meeting Monday, but the issue will be put to a vote in a plenary session at a later date.
The proposal was rejected 7-6 in the committee stage. Seven legislators of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) voted in favor of a DPP proposal to maintain a zero-tolerance policy on ractopamine, while six ruling Kuomintang (KMT) lawmakers backed a Cabinet bill to allow controlled levels of ractopamine in beef imports.
However, the Cabinet bill, which seeks to amend the Act Governing Food Sanitation, will be sent to the full Legislature by the 15-member Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee, in keeping with a multi-partisan agreement reached last week.
KMT Legislator Cheng Ru-fen, who opposes allowing ractopamine residues, did not attend Monday's meeting.
Being absent from the meeting was a gesture to demonstrate her efforts to safeguard public health, Cheng said.
KMT legislative whip Lin Hung-chih said he was disappointed with the results of the vote, which indicated that Cheng is still concerned about the safety of ractopamine.
The Cabinet must step up its communication with the Legislature on major policies, Lin said.
The Cabinet bill factors in public health issues and national interests, Lin said.
Meanwhile, DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming described the committee vote as a "historic moment" that reflected public opinion. He urged KMT lawmakers to stand on the side of the people.
Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng of the KMT said although the DPP proposal obtained more votes in the committee meeting, a final decision on the draft amendments related to U.S. beef will be determined later in a plenary session of the Legislature.
Asked on the results, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) spokesman Christopher Kavanagh reiterated the United States stance that hopes Taiwan will establish maximum residue levels for ractopamine based on scientific evidence.
The AIT has stressed that studies have shown ractopamine is safe.
In early March, the Taiwan government decided to conditionally lift the ban on beef imports that contain ractopamine, saying no existing literature has showed any cases of people having fallen ill after consuming meat containing "certain allowed levels" of ractopamine.
In addition to the DPP and Cabinet versions of the bill, there was also a proposal submitted by the opposition People First Party (PFP) that said Taiwan should follow international standards on the use of ractopamine.
However, the PFP proposal was not voted on in the committee meeting.
The three proposals will be put to a vote during a plenary session of the Legislature in the near future.
Premier Sean Chen said Sunday that the beef issue is key to the resumption of trade talks between Taiwan and the U.S. The government will continue to communicate with the public on the matter, he added.
The KMT holds 64 seats in the 113-member Legislature, while the DPP holds 40. The TSU and PFP each have three seats, and three places are held by independent lawmakers.
(By Elaine Hou)