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September 24, 2017

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The time has come to end the beef with Washington

The new beef war between Taiwan and the United States touched off Uncle Sam's insistence on making Taipei's lifting of the ban on American beef with ractopamine residues a sine qua non for resumption of negotiations on the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), and is threatening to become fiercer as hog farmers are getting ready to march on the Office of the President to protest against the bullying from across the Pacific. Raymond F. Burghardt, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, came from Washington immediately after the Chinese New Year holiday to suggest unequivocally that the ban is holding up the negotiations for the TIFA, and President Ma Ying-jeou agreed that the time has come to review the ban, which he believes may be lifted. The contemplated lifting of the ban kicked off an internecine war in Taiwan, with swine raisers up in arms against a probable follow-up end to imports of pork with Payleen residues. Payleen is another name of ractopamine.

The current beef war is a continuation of the one the two countries fought in 2009 over the importation of American beef and offal of cattle raised in areas where mad cow disease has occurred. As the war of 2009, which ended in an amendment to the Food Safety Act to virtually ban all such beef and offal in violation of the protocol Taipei signed with Washington, should not have been waged, so is the one that may erupt at the end of this month as more than 10,000 hog farmers say they will drive their swine to Taipei from southern Taiwan to besiege the Office of the President together with their sympathetic supporters.

Is the leanness-enhancer ractopamine or Payleen dangerous? Chen Bao-ji, chairman of the Council of Agriculture, chaired a meeting of his Cabinet task force to deal with the ractopamine issue, where it was concluded that Payleen is the least toxic of all leanness enhancers, which is allowed to be used in 26 countries around the world, including the United States and Canada, and no ractopamine poisoning of human beings has been reported over the past 13 years since the feed additive has been in use. The safe ractopamine residue level the Department of Health has set for human consumption is much stricter than what is commonly accepted worldwide.

A recent China Times poll shows more than half of the respondents support the lifting of the ractopamine ban, if the warning label is shown on the imported beef. According to the Feb. 9 survey of 950 adults, 53 percent of them accept the U.S. beef imports on that condition, compared with 41 percent against and the rest expressing no opinion. Other findings include a small 20-percent minority remain hard-core American beef fans and at least 65 percent of the people are beef teetotalers. Asked if the ban should be lifted for a diplomatic gain, a code word for getting the TIFA negotiations resumed, response is tied at 47 percent for and 46 percent against.

Of course, the poll may not accurately reflect how the people of Taiwan think about the lifting of the ractopamine ban, but the fact is that by far the great majority of them simply care less, for they don't eat beef anyway. More than half of the beef eaters would eat American beef with ractopamine residue below the safety level. And with the government guarantee that ractopamine residue is an insignificant or minor health hazard, there is no reason why the current beef war should continue any longer. As the administration is planning to adopt the Japanese formula of prohibiting domestic use of Payleen but allowing the importation of meat with ractopamine residue, swine raisers should call off their siege of the Office of the President.

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