Pork consumption largely unchanged despite lifting ractopamine ban: premier

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Taipei, Feb. 18 (CNA) Taiwan’s pork consumption, so far this year, has been largely unchanged from the same period of last year, despite the government’s decision to allow imports of U.S. pork containing the feed additive ractopamine, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said Thursday.

According to Su, total pork consumption from Jan. 1 to Feb. 16 this year was around 62,245 tonnes, compared with 59,278 tonnes in the same period last year.

There has also been no significant hike in pork prices in Taiwan as feared by some, Su said during an Executive Yuan meeting.

The premier said these statistics indicate Taiwanese continue to eat pork despite concerns raised by those who criticized the government’s decision to allow imports of American pork containing ractopamine, suggesting many would switch to other kinds of meat.

Su also said since Taiwan opened up to imports of U.S. pork with acceptable levels of the leanness-enhancing drug in January, customs authorities have checked all 400 batches of imported pork from around the world and found no traces of ractopmaine in any of them.

Despite the new policy, representatives of nearly 70 companies in Taiwan that import pork pledged last year not to import pork containing ractopamine.

Su made the comments a month after the new policy came into effect in an apparent attempt to pave the way for a trade deal with the U.S.

Ractopamine can be used on pigs in the U.S. but not in Taiwan. Its use is currently banned in 160 countries around the world, including European Union member nations, Russia and China, due to potential health concerns relating to both animals and humans.

However, the U.S. has long criticized Taiwan’s zero-tolerance policy on ractopamine in pork as an impediment to trade, and has not held formal talks on trade with Taiwan through the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) framework since October 2016.

Critics of the government’s decision have argued that it fails to prioritize the health of Taiwanese or the interests of local pig farmers, despite government reassurances.

Pork is Taiwan’s most popular meat, with average per capita consumption of around 40kg. The local pork market has a self-sufficiency rate of more than 90 percent.

Meanwhile, during Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, the Council of Agriculture (COA) said it plans to launch a four-year NT$12.83 billion (US$466 million) program to assist the domestic pork industry.

The funding will be used to support hog farmers’ incomes; subsidize insurance premiums on hogs; develop more export opportunities for domestic pork and provide subsidies to upgrade facilities.

The money will also be used to increase the inspection of imported U.S. pork with ractopamine, to ensure it is labeled correctly; encourage local restaurants to use domestic pork and promote the labeling of domestic pork products to clearly distinguish them from imported ones, according to the COA.

The budget proposal is to be submitted to the Legislative Yuan for approval.