A bill drafted by the Cabinet to amend the current food safety act to pave the way for entry of U.S. beef containing residues of the banned livestock feed additive "ractopamine" will be put to a vote in the Legislature Tuesday.
Theoretically, the vote will be a showdown between national interests and public health.
President Ma Ying-jeou and his ruling Kuomintang (KMT) face enormous U.S.pressure to open the door to beef imports containing traces of the animalleanness-enhancing drug.
A lifiting of the current ban is seen to be in Taiwan's interests as it could be a prelude to resumption of the long-stalled talksunder the Taiwan-U.S. Trade and Investment Framework Agreementand facilitate follow-up negotiations for Taiwan's participation in themultilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The main opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its supporters,however, believe that local consumers' health could be at stake if the door is open to ractopamine-contaminated beef.
The DPP has vowed to do whatever it can to block the passage of the bill in the Legislature.
To be fair, we are more sympathetic to the KMT administration's stance.For one thing, traces of ractopamine in U.S. beef tend to be limited. Therehas been no evidence showing people, including Americans, have fallen illdue to consuming beef containing residues of the drug.
Moreover, the KMT adminsitration has promised to strictly demand clear labeling of country of origin of beef sold on the local market afterthe lifting of the ban.
As a member of the World Trade Organization, Taiwan is obligated to abide by fair trade rules and should not arbitrarily ban U.S. beef with no convincing cases of diseases caused by consuming beef containing limited traces of ractopamine.
If Taiwan insists on upholding the ban, the U.S. may retaliate by restricting entry of Taiwan products into its market. Over the long run, the beef trade row may even affect U.S. security commitment to Taiwan, whichcould be a worst-case scenario.
Even though the DPP has cited public health concerns to back its"zero-tolerance" stance on ractopamine residue, its argument is unconvincingand unjustifiable.
We hope the DPP would be more broad-minded and far-sighted in dealing withthe issue.
At the same time, we demand the KMT administration see to it that beefavailable on local store shelves should carry clear country oforigin labeling and ingredient labeling.
Government agencies should also refrain from staging any promotionalactivities for U.S. beef after the removal of the ractopamine ban. (Editorialabstract -- June 11, 2012).
(By Sofia Wu)