USMEF-Taiwan held two days of food safety seminars last week in central Taiwan and Taipei, targeting key buyers and end users of U.S. beef. Facing significant market access issues due to Taiwan’s policy toward beta agonists and the recent U.S. BSE finding, the seminars explained the rigorous risk assessment processes undertaken by U.S. food safety regulators, as well as the industry experts who establish international guidelines for Codex. The seminars, which were supported by the Beef Checkoff Program and the USDA Market Access Program (MAP), focused specifically on the processes used to determine the safety of new livestock veterinary products and feed additives, including beta agonists.
“It is USMEF’s responsibility to help our Taiwan customers understand that U.S. meat is safe,” said USMEF-Taiwan Director Davis Wu. “These seminars were an excellent venue for interaction between our key local stakeholders and leading food safety experts, and for addressing any questions and concerns.”
Featured speakers included former Codex chair Dr. Karen Hulebak and three professors from prominent universities in Taiwan. Hulebak provided an overview of the U.S. food safety system, including its regulatory institutions and its adherence to risk-based food safety policy principles. Hulebak also explained how Codex assessed the risks associated with ractopamine. She stated that the European Commission’s continued opposition to the adoption of a final standard is inconsistent with Codex’s science-based principles and mandate.
Dr. Lin Kou Joong of Chia Yi University’s presentation compared ractopamine use with other common food safety risks, while Dr. Liu Deng Cheng of National Chung Hsing University led a general discussion of veterinary drugs and the evolution of Taiwan’s standards. Dr. Wu Yun Chu of Tunghai University provided a brief overview of issues involving emerging pathogens, noting that pathogens such as salmonella pose a far greater risk to consumer health than proven products such as ractopamine.
The government of Taiwan announced earlier this year that it would work to resolve beef access issues, and is in the initial stages of rulemaking to establish a safe maximum residue level (MRL) for ractopamine in beef. The timeline for implementing this new standard remains uncertain, however, as Taiwan’s opposition party has introduced a number of counter proposals in the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s congress) which would maintain the current zero tolerance standard for all beta agonists.
In the wake of last week’s new BSE finding, the Legislative Yuan postponed further deliberation on ractopamine policy, but the administration has pledged that it will honor its access protocol with the United States. Therefore it will not suspend imports unless there is a change in the United States’ BSE controlled risk status as defined by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
“We are cautiously optimistic that this will not be a lengthy postponement of the ractopamine deliberations,” said Joel Haggard, USMEF senior vice president for the Asia Pacific. “And we are very encouraged by the government’s decision not to further restrict beef imports following the BSE announcement.”
Haggard noted, however, that U.S. beef exports to Taiwan have slowed considerably over the past month as the government has initiated aggressive residue testing of domestic and imported beef at ports, supermarkets, restaurants and distribution warehouses. Fines have been levied on importers and distributors whose products have tested positive in the marketplace. Pork imports are also lower, although this is mainly attributable to a large surplus in the domestic hog herd, causing lower domestic pork prices.