Interesting news from Taiwan, where local farmers and consumers are up in arms against US pressure on Taipei to lift its ban on US pork and beef. The reason is a growth promoting chemical called ractopamine, that is banned in almost all countries around the world, including Canada, the EU and Japan. Taiwan and China are trying to keep their zero threshold on this possibly dangerous substance, but US trade negotiators are now bringing out the big guns. The way Japan has solved the dilemma is to allow imports of some US meat, but ban the use of ractopamine in domestic Japanese pork and beef production.
Ractopamine, a beta-agonist, works in a weird way to make the meat more "lean" while also causing all kinds of side effects in the pigs and cattle. A similar substance, clenbuterol, is banned world-wide. While the US allows 50 ppb, Japan has set a stricter food safety standard limit at 10 ppb. I don't know exactly how much testing of imported US meat is done, but I assume the government inspectors are on the case... (Right, right...)
Image from Food Safety Net: Farmers, food safety groups to protest against ractopamine use
Taiwan News had this story: Pig farmers question double standards on ractopamine
Hualien County Councilor Kung Wen-chun noted that when the government banned ractopamine, pig farmers who continued to use the feed additive faced fines. More than 10 years on, local pig farmers are now used to not using the additive. Washington has been pressing Taipei to revise its zero tolerance policy on ractopamine, which was found in some rejected shipments of beef from the U.S. last year. The beef dispute has been central to the extended suspension of talks between Taiwan and the U.S. under the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). The TIFA, signed in September 1994, provides an official framework for Taiwan-U.S. dialogue on trade and economic issues in the absence of diplomatic ties. Bilateral talks under the TIFA have been stalled since 2007.
Don Shapiro at the American Chamber of Commerce in taipei writes on the Brookings website that "Beef [and pork] had taken on a symbolic importance far out of proportion to its monetary value of less than 1 percent of U.S. exports to Taiwan."
Brookings Institute: Getting Beyond Beef in U.S.-Taiwan Relations
The background is that the two governments signed a protocol in October 2009 lifting most of the remaining restrictions on U.S. beef products that Taiwan had put in place following the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in 2003. Just two months later, however, the Taiwan legislature – in which Ma’s Kuomintang controlled some three-quarters of the seats – enacted a law that reversed some of those very provisions. Despite resentment at what it regarded as Taiwan’s reneging on the protocol, the U.S. government by early 2011 was willing to start preparations to resume TIFA talks. Then another obstacle arose when Taiwan rejected some shipments of beef found to contain traces of the leanness-enhancing feed additive ractopamine. Though ractopamine, widely used by American ranchers, had long been a banned substance in Taiwan, inspectors had not previously tested for its presence. Random inspections, and the rejection of many shipments, have continued over the past year, and the uncertainty has caused some big buyers such as Costco to switch to other sources of supply.Hat tip to Taiwan blogger Michael Turton