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Taiwan calls Codex discussion on ractopamine 'trade war'

2012/07/02 22:04:41

Taipei, July 2 (CNA) The debate to be held over the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine at the Codex Alimentarius Commission, a global food safety body, will not be based on science and health but on trade interests, Taiwanese government officials warned Monday.

Taiwan has been divided by an internal debate over whether to lift its ban on ractopamine and allow imports of American beef containing the drug, allowed as a food additive in livestock in the United States.

Critics of the government's plan to lift the ban have suggested that Taiwan should follow Codex standards, which currently do not include maximum residue levels for ractopamine in beef or pork.

But Cabinet spokesman Hu Yu-wei said at a news conference that when delegates at the Codex meeting to be held in Italy from July 2 to 7 revisit the issue, they will address the issue from a trade rather than health perspective.

The issue has been debated at the Codex meeting for the past four years without reaching a consensus, and the official said history is likely to repeat itself.

European countries remain opposed to the use of ractopamine to protect domestic livestock farmers, Hu said, even though a committee on food additives under the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed maximum residue levels for ractopamine.

Jie Wen-ji, deputy chief representative of the Ministry of Economic Affairs' Office of Trade Negotiations, said the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) proposed in 2004 that it is okay to allow a safe level of ractopamine in the muscle, livers and kidneys of cows and swine.

Its findings have been confirmed by more recent studies in 2006 and 2010, but Jie also did not think the Codex meeting would come to a decision on the issue because the European Union and the United States remain divided over the issue.

The difference of opinion is "not purely based on scientific perspective," Jie said, because the JECFA has concluded based on science that there are maximum residue levels at which ractopamine is safe.

Kang Jaw-jou, director-general of the Food and Drug Administration under the Department of Health, said Taiwan will not be able to sit in on the Codex meeting, but Taiwanese officials stationed overseas will travel to Rome to gain an understanding of the discussion.

"According to the information we have collected, the EU and China will continue to express their concerns (over the issue of ractopamine) at the meeting," Kang said.

The EU and China, both major pork producers, do not want the Codex standards to affect their pig farmers, he said.

Although the Codex standards are only used as reference by countries in the world, they play an important role in global trade regulations, Kang said.

The World Trade Organization adopts Codex standards in addressing trade disputes among its members, he noted.

As for the ongoing domestic debate in Taiwan over ractopamine, Hu said at Monday's news conference that the Cabinet will not resort to an administrative decree to resolve the U.S. beef row.

It will instead wait for the outcome of the Legislature's review of amendments to the Act Governing Food Sanitation, scheduled for July 25 to 27, that would open Taiwan's door to U.S. beef with ractopamine.

(By Elaine Hou and Alex Jiang)