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September 21, 2017

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Legislature votes to lift US beef ban

The Legislative Yuan yesterday lifted Taiwan's ban on beef imports containing ractopamine in a finale to a divisive and months-long national debate.

Plenary voting began at 2:30 p.m. yesterday, after a morning's delay that was triggered by the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) no-confidence motion against Premier Sean Chen.

In a vote of 63 to 46, the Legislature passed three revisions and one additional binding resolution to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法). The revisions package conditionally eases Taiwan's zero-tolerance policy against beef imports with traces of ractopamine, a disputed leanness-enhancing drug.

Of the 64 Kuomintang (KMT) legislators, all but Lin Kuo-cheng (林國正) voted in favor of the beef package.

The Objection

All 40 DPP lawmakers and the three legislators each from the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) and People First Party (PFP) voted against the amendments.

TSU Legislator Hsu Chun-hsin (許忠信) led his party in a wordless protest during yesterday's vote. The TSU trio paced in front of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, holding up black and white signs that said "zero tolerance policy."

The PFP said it objects because the amendments are based on a maximum residue level (MRL) of 10 parts per billion for beef. Taiwan's central government should adopt a standard based on scientific and localized risk assessments, and not one dictated by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, said the PFP's Thomas Lee (李桐豪).

Earlier this month the DPP legislative caucus said that it accepts Codex standards. Yesterday DPP lawmakers said that they reject the amendments because the KMT bill does not make critical safety and industry-related guarantees.

The bill's binding resolution does not clearly and unequivocally state that import permissions for beef and pork are to remain separate, according to DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇).

The KMT has assented only to including the so-called "spirit" of the beef-pork separation, a signal that President Ma Ying-jeou and his party could be about to surrender at the negotiation table over U.S. pork, said Tien.

KMT caucus whip Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) responded that the binding resolution does in fact stipulate the terms of beef-pork separation and not just its "spirit."

Beef Guarantees

The beef bill approved yesterday comprises amendments to three articles and one supplementary resolution in Taiwan's Act Governing Food Sanitation. The auxiliary resolution provides a fourfold guarantee.

The first item deals with the so-called beef-pork separation: "In light of the nation's patterns of consumption, the aforementioned MRL for ractopamine will be limited to beef and will not be applied to pork or cattle offal."

The second states that in the initial stage of imports, the Department of Health (衛生署) must conduct lot-by-lot border inspections and strengthen market supervision to ensure that traces of ractopamine sit below the MRL.

The third states that mandatory labeling of the meat products' sources will be strictly enforced.

The fourth item states that the National Health Research Institutes (國家衛生研究院) and related bodies should strengthen the monitoring of the public's long-term health.

In other changes, Article 11 strikes the ractopamine ban with a provision that beta-agonists (乙型受體素) are prohibited except in cases when the central competent authority establishes a safe standard. Amendments to Articles 17.1 and 31 detail labeling requirements and fines for violations, respectively.

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