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Washington’s Drug Feud With Taiwan

AgribusinessHard to Fight It

Many would be hard-pressed to try and fight the meat industry, even in spite of damning reports like the one above. The industry’s power and influence is widespread, and with ever-expanding funds to defeat detractors, the odds are slim in making headway.

The precedent set in California holds that no state can overrule federal rules on meat production. California lost a case earlier this year, after attempts to ban the sale of livestock unable to walk was met with a lawsuit by meat producers. Now, these ailing animals can still be slaughtered and sold for food. And the animals were made lame because they were overly pumped full of  beta agonists. Yum.

The Pork Network, an industry rag, said Taiwan’s ban is hurting sales, citing FDA approval for the drug and lack of scientific evidence to support Taiwan’s policy. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) claims Taiwan is in violation of its WTO obligations by upholding the ban, said the Network.

The Pork Network also reported that “lifting the ractopamine ban would increase U.S. pork exports by around $240 million,” and that Taiwan’s stance on pork ractopamine is also going to negatively impact beef exports. The dispute over beef has now stopped trade talks between Taiwan and the U.S.

U.S. exports of beef and pork are on track to hit $5 billion each for the first time, the U.S. Meat Export Federation estimates.

“Whether the ban was lifted or whether a strict residue level was adopted, the issue was a scientific one that would surely affect public health,” said Taiwanese official Huang Wei-cher. “It would be ‘totally unacceptable’ if the government tried to solve this scientific problem with politics.”

But the meat industry isn’t the only one with something to gain. Big Pharma makes massive profits from drug use in animals raised for food. The more drugs sold to factory farmers, the more profitable both companies are. The msnbc.com report states:

Pigs fed [ractopamine] in the last weeks of their life produce an average of 10 percent more meat, compared with animals on the same amount of feed that don’t receive the drug. That raises profits by $2 per head, according to the drug’s manufacturer, Elanco.

Currently, China and the EU produce and consume a combined total of 70 percent of the world’s pork. The U.S. is looking to tap that…market. Pork exports to China totaled $463 million in 2010, reported FERN. To put it into perspective, China’s pork exports are only 2-3 percent of the market. “China is a potentially huge market for us,” said Dave Warner, spokesman for the NPPC.  All of this is to gain less than 5 percent of the market.

China and the EU refuse to set a residue limit on ractopmaine due to oversight concerns. Especially when reports show Elanco’s self-created study is what Codex used to determine appropriate MRLs. If the ban on ractopamine is lifted, more countries will purchase our meat, sure.  But, who will make sure the U.S. adheres by that limit? And how trustworthy is that limit to begin with? Just Google “USDA oversight,” and you will find countless reports that the agency’s oversight has failed to provide adequate food safety.

FERN also stated:

In the U.S., residue tests for ractopamine are limited. In 2010, for example, the U.S. did no tests on 22 billion pounds of pork; 712 samples were taken from 26 billion pounds of beef. Those results have not yet been released.

The Obama Administration’s goal is to spur our economy by opening up more trade, but at what cost?

Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons, barb.howe

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