Hog raisers protest against possible easing of ban on animal drug

TAIPEI - Groups of hog producers from across the country staged a protest Friday in front of the Cabinet-level Department of Health (DOH) as they suspected that a ban on ractopamine -- an animal drug that promotes the growth of lean meat in pigs and cattle -- may soon be lifted.
calendar icon 11 August 2007
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Hog farmers from across Taiwan demanded that the DOH not yield to pressure from the United States and lift the ban on the veterinary drug so as to allow U.S. pork containing the substance to enter Taiwan.

The use of ractopamine has provoked local consumers' concern after two shipments of imported pork from the United States and some locally raised pork from central Taiwan were discovered last month to contain the drug, which is lawful in the United States but banned in Taiwan.

According to hog farmers, over 1,000 metric tons of imported U.S. pork are awaiting entry to Taiwan in local ports -- entry conditional on the government lifting the ban on ractopamine.

Arguing that less than 1 percent of domestic farmers would use ractopamine in raising their pigs, representatives of the local hog-raising industry demanded the government not bow to U.S. pressure and criticized local pork importers as "diffident, " evidenced by their fear of declaring the meat to customs authorities.

Yang Her-pei, deputy chairman of the nation's hog-raisers association, accused the DOH of turning a deaf ear to a request made some six months ago by local farmers that foreign pork imports be examined to see whether they contain ractopamine residue.

He blamed the DOH for failing to invite local industry representatives to a seminar it recently sponsored and questioned whether academics who spoke in favor of the drug's use on the occasion represented vested interests.

According to Changhua County pig-raising association chairman Yang Kuan-chang, 52 containers of U.S. pork, collectively worth more than US$50 million in market value have been waiting since July 2 for the ban on ractopamine to be lifted so as to receive clearance.

Young Ju-men, an activist committed to bettering local farmers' livelihoods, who was released from jail last month through a presidential pardon, also took part in the protest.

Shipments of U.S. pork detected to be ractopamine-tainted last month were allegedly going to be sold to a "famous fast-food chain, " he said, expressing his objections to an easing of the ban.

Young was imprisoned for planting explosive devices in Taipei to arouse public attention to the plight of local farmers after the opening of Taiwan's market to foreign farm produce.

Hsieh Ting-hung, deputy director-general of the DOH's Bureau of Food Sanitation, confirmed that the DOH has for more than one month not received any customs clearance report of imported pork. But he clarified that the Council of Agriculture (COA) is the authority in charge of deciding whether to remove the ban.

The DOH will not apply two different standards to examinations of locally and foreign produced pork, he said.

DOH officials have repeatedly said that the DOH has no authority to unilaterally lift the ban because such a move must be approved by the COA, which listed ractopamine as a banned drug.

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