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Taiwan Farmers Protest Plan on Beef Imports With Ractopamine

Taiwan farmers and civic groups protested today against the government’s plan to lift a ban on beef imports containing lean meat additives, a move they say was made for political reasons and poses a health risk.

About 8,000 farmers joined the rally in Taipei against allowing any type of meat with ractopamine residue to enter Taiwan, Pan Lien-chiou, deputy director of the R.O.C. Swine Association said by phone today.

Taiwan this week said it may allow conditional lifting of a ban on imports of U.S. beef that contain trace amounts of the feed additive that promotes lean meat growth. In 2008, Taiwan was the sixth-largest importer of U.S. beef and beef products, according to American Institute in Taiwan data. The market is worth $360 million and imports over $128 million from the U.S.

“If all meat, not just pork, should be safe to eat, why make an exception for U.S. beef?” the association’s Pan said. “Even though the ban on pork containing ractopamine remains, people are concerned about the safety of eating meat, and that has also affected pork prices, which have been falling.”

The government may use a residue limit of 10 parts per billion as a reference, Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta said yesterday. This is similar to the level allowed in Japan and Canada, while the U.S. allows up to 30ppb. The plan needs parliamentary approval.

The decision angered opposition lawmakers as Premier Sean Chen said last month the government won’t lift the ban during the current parliamentary session. Lin Chun-hsien, a spokesman for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party said President Ma Ying-jeou was lying to the people when he said there wasn’t a timetable for lifting the ban, and questioned the hastiness of the decision at a press briefing on March 6.

‘Bargaining Chips’

“The government can’t use our health as political bargaining chips,” Lu Mei-luan, director general of the Homemakers Union and Foundation, said by phone from Taipei. The group is petitioning lawmakers outside parliament to oppose the proposed bill.

Taiwan wants to resume trade talks with the U.S. under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement framework which have been stalled since 2007. The U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez postponed a planned visit to Taiwan from March 4-6, citing “unforeseen circumstances,” according to the American Institute in Taiwan, the defacto U.S. embassy on the island.

The deadlock on the U.S. beef import issue will affect the progress of TIFA talks in the short term, the cabinet said in an e-mailed statement today. If the U.S. doesn’t see Taiwan as a trusted trading partner, it will affect the support for Taiwan to join regional trade groups and hurt its global competitiveness, the statement said. Taiwan aims to be a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a U.S.-led trade accord, according to the statement.

Taiwan banned U.S. beef imports in December 2003 on concerns of mad-cow disease, and in 2006 relaxed rules to allow the imports of U.S. beef from cattle less than 30 months old. The American Institute in Taiwan said in a statement earlier this month the European Union, China and Taiwan are the only major markets that ban domestic use of ractopamine and don’t allow the imports of meat that contains residue of the additive.

Ractopamine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is used by many U.S. beef and pork producers.

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