Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Taiwan in a stew over American pork

Protesters say the decision to allow imports of US pork raised on ractopamine threatens Taiwan's food safety.

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Thousands took to the streets of Taipei on Sunday to voice their anger at their government’s decision to ease restrictions on imports of US pork.

In the annual “Autumn Struggle” protest march, Taiwan’s main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), rallied its supporters to join an increasingly vociferous campaign against the pork decision, which it says threatens the nation’s food safety.

President Tsai Ing-wen announced in August that the government would, from January 2021, allow imports of US pork raised on ractopamine, a feed additive that stimulates the growth of lean meat, Reuters reports.

A Live Science report says there are serious questions about ractopamine’s safety. It belongs to a class of drugs, beta-agonists, that were developed to treat asthma and only adapted for animal use when they were shown to boost growth rates.

The use of ractopamine is banned in 160 countries including the EU, mainland China and Russia, while 27 other countries, including Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand have declared meat from livestock fed ractopamine safe for human consumption.

Taipei’s decision, welcomed in Washington, removes a stumbling block in the way of a long sought-after US free trade deal for Taiwan. However, KMT has strongly opposed the decision, tapping into public concern about food safety after several high-profile scandals in recent years.

KMT chairman Johnny Chiang called on Tsai to take part in a televised debate on the issue. “Taiwanese pigs don’t eat ractopamine and yet you are asking Taiwanese people to? Does this make sense?” he told supporters. KMT is trying to organise a referendum on the US pork imports.

Tsai’s government and her ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) say the decision brings the island into line with international norms, is not a safety threat and will boost Taiwan-US ties.

In a statement on Sunday, DPP, which had previously voiced strong objections to ractopamine, urged KMT to “stop its political machinations and return to rational discussions”.

They have accused KMT of spreading fake news about the subject in an effort to sow public fear.

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