Taipei, The opposition Kuomintang (KMT) on Wednesday said it will petition to hold a national referendum opposing the government’s decision to lift a ban on imports of pork containing trace amounts of a controversial feed additive.
Speaking at a meeting of the party’s Central Standing Committee, KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) said the party was planning a range of actions to oppose the policy, including a joint statement with industry and civic groups, possible protests and the organization of a national food safety referendum.
Chiang was responding to an announcement by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) last Friday that the government will set maximum residue levels for ractopamine in pork, allowing it to be imported from the United States, satisfying a key U.S. demand to begin talks on an eventual trade deal between the countries.
At the meeting, the party argued that effective food labeling was not enough to ease its concerns with the policy, given the wide variety of processed pork products consumed in Taiwan, which can contain meat sourced from multiple sources.
In the past, these food safety issues have always been connected to the issue of cost. If a manufacturer uses pork containing ractopamine for one-third or one-fifth of a processed meat product, such as the filling for dumplings, how is that going to be reflected on the product label, said KMT Culture and Communications Committee Chairwoman Wang Yu-min (王育敏).
The party’s criticisms came as farmers in Changhua County — where about 750,000 pigs are raised annually, accounting for an output value of over NT$10 billion (US$340.7 million) — gathered at the county government to express their opposition to the central government’s policy.
Addressing the protesters, KMT Changhua County Magistrate Wang Huei-mei (王惠美) asked: “If ractopamine has no effect on the human body, why aren’t Taiwanese farmers allowed to use it? And why did the Ministry of Education send a letter to schools stating that they can only use domestic pork? And if this was a trade-off, what did we get in return?”
Meanwhile, the government on Wednesday continued efforts to build consensus on the issue, with Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) announcing that he would begin a national tour next week to promote effective product origin labeling.
When asked about the issue during a press conference, Chen said enforcing clear labeling was something “easy to say but hard to do,” that would require detailed planning in order to safeguard consumers’ interests.
To do so, Chen said he would embark next week on a tour of traditional markets, grocery stores, and pork processing plants around the country, with the aim of reviewing and resolving any shortcomings in the current system.
At the same time, Tsai rebutted criticism that the policy shift constitutes a “trade-off,” arguing that it is based on Taiwan’s economic interests and in line with future strategic goals.
Addressing the Central Standing Committee of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, Tsai said Taiwan was at a “critical moment,” largely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which the world economy is transforming and supply chains are being reorganized.
At such a critical moment, it is all the more important that we show the ability and determination to resolve economic and trade issues. This will benefit Taiwan’s relations with other countries, and allow it to play a vital role in the world economy, Tsai said.
Taiwan’s new standards for ractopamine residue in imported pork, as well as the opening of its market to American beef from cattle aged over 30 months, which had been banned because of fears of mad-cow disease, will take effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
Under Taiwan’s Referendum Act, referendums can take place every two years, with the next possible date being Aug. 28, 2021.
In order to hold a national referendum, a number equal to 1.5 percent of voters in the most recent presidential election — 214,514 people based on the 2020 turnout of 14,300,940 — must sign a petition supporting the referendum proposal.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel