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Lifting beef ban ignores big picture

Lifting beef ban ignores big picture

By Chan Shun-kuei 詹順貴

It could hardly be more obvious that the government decided some time ago it was going to allow US beef imports, and that its assertion that it had “no preset stance, no timetable and no commitment” was just for show.

A few days ago, it held two national security meetings in as many days, concluding that its stance had changed to “giving consideration to both public health and economic / foreign relations interests.” Clearly, the government was even then preparing to push things through. Sure enough, last Monday night, came the announcement that it was to conditionally lift a ban on US beef containing ractopamine residue, sending jaws striking the floor across the nation. Our last recourse now is to take to the streets to add pressure and force another U-turn. After that, it will all be in the hands of the legislature.

One of the reasons the government has given for forcing through the lifting of the ban is that there is currently no research indicating that the additive is harmful to the human body. That is as may be, but there are two ways to interpret the assertion that there is “currently no research.” The first is that there is a lot of research out there that corroborates the assertion that the substance is safe.

The second is that very little research, indeed perhaps scarcely any, has been done on its effects on the human body, in which case there would not be any results to be had. For ractopamine, the second possibility is much nearer the mark. The government then is being disingenuous in asserting there is no evidence to indicate it is harmful to humans.

Opening up the domestic market to US beef imports involves systemic structural problems. All the fuss so far has centered on the public health risk, but while this is certainly important, it is not the most involved or complex issue. In 2010, Taiwan imported 32,032 tonnes of beef from the US, 28,382 tonnes from Australia and 18,128 tonnes from New Zealand. Imported beef constituted more than 95 percent of the beef consumed in Taiwan that year.

If the government now simply opens up the market to US beef, Taiwan will have to reduce the amount imported from Australia and New Zealand, unless perhaps one thinks the public are suddenly going to eat a whole lot more beef. Furthermore, under WTO regulations, as soon as we allow the import of beef containing residues of this additive, we will also be relinquishing the right to implement safeguards in the interest of public health, per the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) of the WTO’s Multilateral Agreements on Trade in Goods. If that happens, the ban would also be lifted on imports of chicken and pork with residues.

It is absolutely not true, as the government would have us believe, that different meats can be dealt with separately. This is the real reason that lifting the ban is going to devastate the domestic animal husbandry industry. It will also pose a significant public health risk, since Taiwanese consume up to 1 million tonnes of chicken and pork every year.

Many believe that the government’s recent revelation of the outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza was done in preparation for the next phase of their plan, paving the way for allowing imports of pork and chicken with residues. This is a secondary problem.


From TaipeiTimes

Date: Mon, Mar 12, 2012

8F., No.94, Sec.2, Jhongsiao E. Rd., Taipei City 10053, Taiwan