While the political controversy over the safety of ractopamine continues to swirl in Taiwan, USMEF is maintaining its education program on the safety of U.S. red meat. Both American beef and pork were on prominent display last week at the annual Taipei International Food Exhibition in a large pavilion with the theme “From Farm to Fun.”
The center of media attention, the USMEF booth was featured on the front page of the China Post. A dozen reporters attended a ceremonial U.S. beef rib tasting on the opening day of the show featuring American Institute of Taiwan (AIT) Deputy Director Eric Madison, Agricultural Trade Officer Jeffrey Hesse and Iowa Department of Economic Development Director Debi Durham. Eight exhibitors at the USMEF booth showed a range of U.S. beef and pork products and served special slow-cooked prime rib prepared by Taiwan celebrity chef Jimmy Zhang. Funding for the USMEF booth was provided through the USDA Market Access Program and the Beef and Pork Checkoff programs.
Public debate on the ractopamine issue continued last week. Addressing the American Chamber of Commerce, outgoing AIT Director William Stanton called the ractopamine and U.S. meat access controversy a “false issue.” In the meantime, Taiwan President Ma Ying Jeou repeated his assertion that the issue needed to be resolved quickly in order to maintain Taiwan’s credibility as a global economic player.
Taiwan’s richest citizen, industrialist Guo Tai Ming, CEO of Apple consumer electronics manufacturer Hon Hai Industrial Group (Foxconn), weighed in on the topic as well, stating that the issue should be decided by executive order. President Ma has pledged to submit an amendment through Taiwan’s legislature to resolve the issue, although it is widely acknowledged that his executive branch has the unilateral power to establish residue limits on feed additives such as ractopamine. Ma has called a special session of the Legislative Yuan July 24-27 to finalize the beef access issue as well as several other contentious energy and tax-related bills.
While USMEF displayed a full line of U.S. beef and pork items at the Taipei food show, the ractopamine issue has taken its toll on the trade. U.S. beef imports have fallen sharply since the beginning of the year, totaling just 265 metric tons (584,219 pounds) in May, down 90 percent from last year and 32 percent from January 2012.
Pork imports are also down, although a local glut of hogs and low domestic prices are key factors there. Total Taiwan and U.S. pork imports through May of this year each declined 37 percent, with imports from the U.S. at 8,504 metric tons (18.7 million pounds) and imports from all suppliers reaching 23,372 tons (51.5 million pounds). In May, Taiwan hog marketings were 11 percent larger than last year, with prices down 17.5 percent to around $0.90 cents per pound.
“Although low pork imports so far this year are due more to a weak domestic market than to border inspections, the local hog cycle seems to have bottomed and prices are likely to move higher in the second half,” said USMEF Senior Vice President of Asia Pacific Joel Haggard. “Unfortunately, if Taiwan sets a tolerance for ractopamine in the short term, it is likely only to apply to beef. The pork issue will remain unresolved.”
So far this year, there have been 21 detections of ractopamine in U.S. beef imports and three in American pork.
USMEF continues to provide messages to multiple audiences across Taiwan on U.S. beef and pork safety and the international scientific community’s endorsement of the safety of ractopamine. Last week, USMEF placed a full page advertorial in the daily newspaper Commercial Times in which it described CODEX and the scientific review process of ractopamine by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).
“We were pleased with the turnout and the generally positive attitude of the Taiwanese trade and the public to our booth and product display,” said Davis Wu, USMEF-Taiwan director. “We used a festive farm theme to highlight the quality of U.S. meat while disseminating copies of our advertorial and messages on U.S. beef’s safety.”