Premier, KMT lawmaker spar over eased pork import policy
Taipei, Sept. 18 (CNA) Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and an opposition Kuomintang (KMT) lawmaker engaged in a verbal battle at the Legislative Yuan on Friday over the government's policy to allow imports of U.S. pork containing a veterinary drug banned in Taiwan.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government announced on Aug. 28 it would allow imports of pork with traces of the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine starting Jan. 1, 2021 to satisfy U.S. demands to open its market to the controversial meat.
Though Taiwan bans its hog farmers from using ractopamine, the DPP government has provided assurances that meat with traces of the veterinary drug is safe.
But KMT caucus members, led by party chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), gathered inside the Legislature's conference hall holding a replica of a large pink pig aloft and chanting the slogan, "Oppose ractopamine pork, protect health."
At a legislative hearing later in the day with the premier and relevant Cabinet members in attendance, KMT Legislator Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) accused the DPP government of "lying to people" about the safety of meat containing ractopamine to humans.
He said the DPP government has defended its decision to ease restrictions on imports of American pork containing ractopamine using the excuse that "time and space have changed" from when the DPP fiercely opposed ractopamine in pork and called its presence in beef "toxic" as an opposition party in the 2010s.
"What exactly has changed?" Chiang asked.
In response, Su said there have been many studies and test reports of meat containing the drug published internationally since the then-KMT government opened Taiwan's market to beef with ractopamine from the United States in 2012, without citing any of them.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced the new policy on Aug. 28 based on "international standards and scientific evidence," Su said.
Unconvinced, Chiang wondered why after the DPP's decisive victory in the 2016 presidential and legislative elections, the Council of Agriculture (COA) still reported to lawmakers that July that the government not only opposed imports of meat with ractopamine but would request American exporters to sell ractopamine-free pork to Taiwan.
Current COA chief Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) was the COA's deputy head at the time, Chiang said, implying a sharp U-turn of the DPP government on the issue.
He asked the government "not to lie to people again."
"Don't say the time and space have changed," the lawmaker said. "The DPP even opposed the move when it took power in 2016," he said, so "stop lying, Mr. Premier. People are not born to be cheated."
To Su's argument that the KMT government had already opened its doors to imports of American beef containing ractopamine, Chiang asked "do you eat high-priced American beef every day?"
But Taiwanese generally eat pork every day, Chiang said, accusing the DPP government of condemning people to eat pork with ractopamine, knowing pork is heavily consumed in Taiwan.
Su retorted that it was the KMT that lied because it contended that ractopamine does not pose a safety problem.
The premier further asked the lawmaker, who lived in the United States for many years getting graduate degrees and working as lawyer before starting his political career in Taiwan in 2015, that "did you eat American beef in the U.S.?" and "did you eat American pork?"
"Have you ever been sick?" Su asked, and Chiang replied that he did not eat American beef every day and he did not eat a lot of pork when he was in the U.S.
In the tense exchange of rhetoric that last for 15 minutes, Chiang and the premier verbally sparred several times, with Su blasting Chiang for "having no guts to face (the problem)" and Chiang firing back by calling the premier "the person who is unwilling to face the problem."
Chiang criticized Su for "underestimating Taiwanese people's IQ."
During the hearing, more than 10 KMT lawmakers, including Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文), asked the premier to apologize for the decision to allow imports of pork with ractopamine and Chen Chi-chung to step down as agricultural chief.
When Tsai said the government would set maximum residue levels for ractopamine in imported pork and allowed imports of American beef from cattle aged over 30 months, she said it was "based on the economic interests of the nation" and met "future general strategic goals."
The controversial decision was seen as an attempt to satisfy a U.S. condition for beginning negotiations on an eventual bilateral trade deal. The restrictions on pork and beef have been labeled as trade barriers in multiple reports by the U.S. trade representative.
Also at Friday's legislative session, a proposal by the KMT caucus to ask President Tsai to deliver a report to the Legislature on the plan and how her administration will secure food safety, went directly to a second reading and will enter interparty negotiations.
Meanwhile, former KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) said he would be willing to eat American pork if the new policy could win a free trade agreement (FTA) with the U.S. in exchange.
He asked Premier Su not to lie to people but tell them honestly "what (Taiwan) can get in exchange for sacrificing people's health?"
As long as Taiwan can get something valuable in return, such as an FTA, Chu believed there would be rational discussion on the controversial issue.
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