Washington’s Drug Feud With Taiwan

Drug banAmericans may have a bird’s eye view to a lot of things, but U.S. citizens are largely kept in the dark regarding food safety issues, even if those issues have global implications.

If you’re a regular reader here, you’re probably already aware of the gross prevalence to which America’s meat is filled with unnecessary hormones and antibiotic treatments. We pump livestock  full of drugs to preventively keep animals from getting sick due to their dirty living conditions; mass deaths would mean lowered profits.

But, few people are aware that some of the developed world refuses to trade with us when it comes to food treated with these drugs. One recent example comes from Taiwan. And unsurprisingly, U.S. media is not covering it.

Just days after the reelection of Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou, Washington is stepping up pressure on the administration to back down on its ban on ractopamine, a leanness- and growth-promoting drug used widely in pork and beef production in the United States. Taiwan’s zero tolerance policy for the drug, which applies to both domestic production and imports, has become a critical barrier to further liberalizing trade between the two countries.

That’s the latest from Food Safety News. Washington is saying Taiwan’s complaints are not science based and Taiwanese officials should release the ban to renew a trade relationship between the two countries. Not so fast, say Taiwanese farmers, who are threatening to protest these renewed efforts at lifting the ban.

Back in 2007, the Taiwanese government was in a similar situation after promising the  World Trade Organization (WTO) they would establish maximum residue limits (MRLs) for ractopamine in pork, thus accepting some exports of U.S. beef. Farmers protested and the ban stayed.

The drug in question, ractopamine, is just one of hundreds of different drugs used on factory farms here in America. In particular, ractopamine is used to keep pigs lean and boost their growth but is showing up in trace amounts in food. The drug is produced by a company named Elanco (owned by Eli Lily), and was first approved for use in U.S. food animals in 1999. It is now approved in 25 other countries.

The Food and Environment Reporting Network (FERN) released a report on msnbc.com, describing the tenuous trade relations between the European Union, China and the U.S. over food safety issues. The U.N.’s governing body, Codex Alimentarius Commission, or simply Codex, sets global food standards, and proposes things like appropriate MRLs for ractopamine. Codex has been deadlocked on approving ractopamine for open trade since 2003, when the U.S. first went after them, according to the report.

Since 2008, one question has hung in the balance: “What, if any, level of ractopamine is safe in meat?” If Codex were to lift the ban, Washington could then pressure the WTO to lift bans in other countries and secure the market.

The next page highlights some of the reasons this silly little drug is so incendiary.

Next >> Why should we be concerned?

Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons, epSos.de

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