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CEO Team Tackles Beta Agonist Issue in Taiwan

Published: Jun 16, 2011
The USMEF-led delegation of CEOs has concluded two days of meetings and visits in Taiwan, focused primarily on assessing the impact Taiwan's ban on beta agonist residues in meat products is having on U.S. pork and beef sales.
Testing of U.S. and imported products has intensified since January, when ractopamine hydrochloride residues were first detected by Taiwanese inspectors in U.S. beef shipments. Taiwan has been actively testing for ractopamine in imported pork since 2007.

"There is no question that purchasing interest in U.S. pork and beef has sagged," said Philip Seng, USMEF CEO and delegation leader. On the other hand, overall demand for imported beef and pork in Taiwan is strong, driven by high domestic pork prices and 5 percent GDP growth.

“The strength of demand in Taiwan is very much evident and, despite stringent border checks, beef importers have been willing to assume import risks,” said Seng. However, he noted that as detections mount – there have been 18 U.S. beef violations and 8 U.S. pork violations posted so far this year by the Taiwan Government – the pace of exports is expected to fall further. According to Taiwan import statistics through May, the volume of U.S. beef imports is down 15 percent from the same period of last year. U.S. pork exports to Taiwan through April are off 5 percent in volume.

“Without the border issues, our pork and beef exports would be up significantly,” said Seng.

The USMEF-led delegation met with Taiwan pork and beef importers, Taiwan-based U.S. packer representatives, Taiwan government authorities and representatives of the American Institute of Taiwan (AIT) to discuss the implications of the ban.

Seng reminded various stakeholders that the government of Taiwan endorsed the safety of ractopamine in the late summer of 2007 when it notified the WTO Sanitary Phytosanitary (SPS) Committee that it planned to establish a maximum residue level (MRL) for the compound. That pledge was rescinded just days later when Taiwan farm groups mounted public protests.

The U.S. delegation was told during its stay this week that the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for Jan. 14, 2012, would make an early resolution of the issue difficult to achieve. Previous statements have suggested that the Taiwan government would not take action to resolve the issue until it is known whether the CODEX Alimentarius Commission will approve ractopamine at its July meeting.

“The livestock industry leaders in our delegation repeatedly expressed their hope that the Taiwan government can move sooner rather than later on reaffirming the safe use of ractopamine and bringing its requirements into line with the science on this compound,” Seng said.

There have been four government-organized risk communication activities held in Taiwan about ractopamine safety, and the delegation was told that more might be planned. Although the manufacture, sale and usage of ractopamine and other beta agonists is banned in Taiwan, there have been recent media reports of residue findings in local livestock products. This and other non-meat food safety issues could complicate resolution of the issue. Moreover, food safety anxiety has resurfaced among consumers, most recently following extensive media reports on the use of banned “plasticizers” in dozens of Taiwanese food products, including beverages.

The U.S. meat industry delegation, including Barry Carpenter of the National Meat Association, Neil Dierks of the National Pork Producers Council, Bill Westman of the American Meat Institute and Joel Haggard of USMEF’s Asia-Pacific region, has arrived in Tokyo for the final two days of its Asia schedule.