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August 19, 2017

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US beef war no more than political shadow boxing

The Legislative Yuan, which adjourned last Friday after a five-day confrontation between the ruling and opposition parties, is all set to start a two-day emergency meeting today. The purpose? Just to pass a Cabinet-sponsored bill to amend the Food Sanitation Act to import U.S. beef and beef products that may contain ractopamine, considered by some to be a health hazard.

The beef war between Taiwan and the U.S. was kicked off three years ago by the Legislative Yuan, which legislated virtual barriers to U.S. beef and beef products that may, by a one-in-million chance, cause bovine spongiform encephalitis or Mad Cow Disease despite a protocol signed between Taipei and Washington to allow the products in. Uncle Sam suspects Taiwan is an unreliable trade partner, and has been pushing Taipei to lift the ban on U.S. ractopamine-containing beef and beef products to reinstitute Taiwan as a reliable one.

The ban on ractopamine-containing American beef, which is eaten by the Americans and considered quite, if not perfectly, safe for human consumption, was almost lifted while President Chen Shui-bian was still in office. As a matter of fact, his health minister had told the World Health Organization that beef and beef products containing ractopamine residue lower than the maximum allowable levels would be imported. The ban has continued simply because he wanted to avenge a Washington slur, using it as an excuse for the strong sentiment against the lifting of the ban by the Kuomintang (KMT), which was then in opposition.

The KMT, back in power after 2008, had to bear the brunt of the U.S. demands to open up Taiwan's market to the beef, and so has to change sides with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), championing the importation of the bovine products from the U.S. One thing fair to say is that if the DPP were in power it would allow the imports and the KMT in opposition would oppose it, though the KMT would not likely occupy the podium of the Legislative Yuan to prevent the deliberation and a final vote on the amendment bill.

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