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Government urged to put health issues before U.S. beef row

2012/06/30 15:36:16

Taipei, June 30 (CNA) The government should put domestic health issues, such as improving the health care system and cancer prevention, ahead of a long-running dispute over U.S. beef imports, a local tycoon urged Saturday.

"Medical treatment and health care issues are far more important than whether or not to import U. S. beef containing the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine," said Terry Gou, chairman of the Hon Hai Group, on the sidelines of a ceremony celebrating the third anniversary of a therapy center he funded.

Saying it was "stupid" that lawmakers spent a whole week of an extra legislative session discussing the issue, Gou admitted that he is for the U.S. beef imports and that there is no need to introduce legislation on the issue when an executive order will do.

The time wasted could have been used to discuss something more valuable, such as Taiwan's medical problems or why the country is losing talents in the medical field, he said.

"The government should provide a care-free medical environment for businessmen to work harder to drive the economy," said Gou.

Whether to allow U.S. beef imports containing traces of ractopamine, a feed additive banned in Taiwan, has been hotly debated in recent months.

After holding three inter-ministerial meetings that were also attended by members of the academia and private groups, the government proposed in March to conditionally ease the ban on ractopamine.

The proposal was based on the principles of specifying a safe level of ractopamine, issuing separate permits for beef and pork imports, mandating the labeling of beef imports and excluding imports of beef organs.

However, the government's decision has sparked stiff opposition among opposition parties and many civic groups that emphasize safety concerns over the use of ractopamine. Government officials, however, have argued that the decision factors in public health and that there is no scientific evidence of people having fallen ill after consuming meat containing "certain allowed levels" of ractopamine.

Taiwan is hoping to resume trade talks with the United States after the beef issue is resolved.

(By James Lee)