Features include interactive map, in-depth stories, and more.Download now. »
The week's top five must-sees,
delivered to your inbox.
LinkAsia | May 17
Taiwan is demanding justice from the Philippines, after the Filipino coast guard shot and killed a Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters that both...
Officials in neighboring Taiwan say that South Korea’s FTA with the US will end up costing the island nation USD$3 billion in lost trade with the US. So the Taiwanese government is trying to push forward with its own free trade agreement with the US. But the negotiations have been held up by a debate over whether to allow US beef into Taiwan. To smooth things out, the Taiwanese president wants to lift the ban against US beef containing the additive, ractopamine, which makes the meat lean. But opponents say that the additive is bad for your health. Our contributor, Cindy Sui, has more on the story from Taipei.
Even though the US says there’s no scientific evidence proving that ractopamine is harmful to health, online chat rooms have been filled with concern. Many people simply don’t believe the Taiwanese government and US officials’ statements that the additive is safe.
One online comment read:
"Are you going to stupidly believe the officials and companies just because they tell you ractopamine is 'safe' and that there are 'no problems'? If it’s really safe, then how come only 24 countries in the world allow it to be used?"
Many people simply don’t believe the government’s promises that it will ensure the US beef imports have safe levels of ractopamine and that the products are clearly labeled.
This person wrote:
"Who doesn’t know that Taiwan’s government’s so-called food safety controls put politics and business interests ahead of expert opinion."
But this issue isn’t just about health concerns. Taiwan’s ban against US beef has caused trade talks between the two sides to be stalled. Taiwan’s government argues these talks need to be restarted so that Taiwan's exports to the US can stay competitive and that the two sides can sign a free trade agreement. Some people are worried that Taiwan's government is caving in to US pressure on the beef issue.
This person wrote:
"Since we already don’t accept this type of product, why should we change for the United States? Why should we lower our standards?"
Several protests have been held in Taiwan, including this one by thousands of pig farmers this month. Many of Taiwan’s pig farmers believe that once US beef is allowed into Taiwan, pork will be next, creating competition for them. Taiwan doesn’t actually have a big cattle industry, but the pork industry is a billion dollar business. They fear their livelihoods will be affected. There are also worries that even if local pork stays competitive in terms of pricing, consumers will be scared and confused about which product on store shelves come from the US and will simply stop buying beef or pork.
But some people are also questioning the safety of Taiwan’s own beef products. This person wrote there’s no guarantee that Taiwanese meat is also safe:
"Just because US beef contains ractopamine doesn’t mean it’s not as safe as Taiwan’s meat products."
This netizen says he’s in favor of lifting the ban as long as Taiwan’s government has measures in place to ensure the level of ractopamine is at a safe level in the beef imports from the US:
"Nowadays many things we eat and drink contain similar chemicals or other added substances. It’s just that we’re not aware of this."
It’s difficult to say how this issue will be decided in the end. Taiwan’s recently reelected president seems eager to push ahead with lifting the ban. It’s believed that Ma Ying-jeou can afford to make this politically unpopular move in the interest of helping Taiwan’s exports enjoy tariff cuts and other privileges in the US. In Taipei, I’m Cindy Sui, for LinkAsia.
Critics say the side effects of ractopamine in humans include increased heart rate, constricted blood vessels, and carcinogenicity, among others.