Pig farmers have to guarantee no lean-meat drugs in pork: Taiwan
Tests find leanness drugs in Australian beef and Taiwanese pork
Taiwan News, Staff Writer
2012-03-13 03:41 PM
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The government wants pig farmers to sign statements promising their products do not contain lean-meat agents after drugs even more toxic than ractopamine were found in Australian beef and Taiwanese pork, reports said Tuesday.

If farmers refused to sign the letter, they would be barred from selling their pigs and pork products as well as see their names made public, reports said. The measure was to come into force on Wednesday.

As a result, Premier Sean Chen said the government wanted to go for a complete overhaul of the Food Hygiene Management Act to establish a supervision system for food safety. The changes had been going on for seven to eight months with more than half the law’s articles being amended, but the government was also willing to offer suggestions on how to rewrite the parts about lean-meat drugs, he said.

Chen said the supervision of food would start at the farm and continue over the slaughterhouse to the food processing plants all the way to the retail level.

The latest proposals followed the expansion of the concern over leanness drugs from beef to pork. Tests in Taiwanese pork showed the presence of salbutamol sulphate, an additive specialists describe as 2,000 times as toxic as ractopamine. The product stays inside the animals for a long time and at high levels, according to toxicologists. Council of Agriculture inspectors found the substance after hair and blood tests of pigs at two farms in Pingtung County but also during an inspection of pork on sale at a meat market.

Chen ordered the COA to tighten its supervision on the quality of pork. “We demand a guarantee from each pig farm seven days before slaughter that their pigs have not been fed lean-meat agents,” he told reporters.

Farmers found to have sold ractopamine-treated pigs would be banned from selling any pork for two months and face fines or even prison sentences, officials said. A total of 9,800 pig farmers would be receiving the blank forms, and those refusing to sign would see their name published as well as face tougher inspections.

COA Vice Minister Wang Cheng-teng admitted the new measures would deliver a shock to some pig farmers, but it would encourage the vast majority of farmers playing by the rules. He said that only thorough reforms would protect public health and clean up the sector. In regular tests since 1998, salbutamol had been found in about 2 percent of pork products, officials said.

Because the farmers in Pingtung were first-time offenders, they would be fined between NT$30,000 (US$1,000) and NT$150,000 (US$5,000), officials said. Farmers who were found to have fed banned drugs to their animals at least twice within a year could be fined NT$250,000 (US$8,500) to NT$1.25 million (US$42,000). The worst offenders could have their business license revoked, the COA said.

The Republic of China Pig Farmers Association said it supported the new government policy because it would increase public confidence in local pork.

Thousands of pig farmers protested in Taipei last Thursday against government plans to legalize the import of ractopamine-treated beef from the US because they fear pork will be next.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party accused the government of using the pig farm checks to try and divert attention away from the problems with US beef. There was a possibility that the government was naming the additives for pigs as more toxic than ractopamine in order to make the beef imported from the US look less harmful, DPP lawmaker Chen Ting-fei said.

On Monday, the heads of six DPP-ruled local governments reaffirmed their determination to campaign against the sale of ractopamine-treated meat.

In addition to pork, inspections are also continuing into the presence of leanness agents in beef. The Department of Health found zilpaterol in one batch of Australian beef in Chiayi City and ractopamine in four other products. Australia bans the feeding of the leanness agents to cattle. Zilpaterol is only legal in the US and Canada and can pose a threat to heart patients, specialists said. Chang Gung Memorial Hospital toxicologist Lin Ja-liang described zilpaterol as 15 times as toxic as ractopamine.

The level of the substance in the hotpot beef slices sold at a popular supermarket in Chiayi amounted to 0.8 parts per billion, health officials said. The distributor of the meat product said the Australian beef might have been mixed with beef from other sources such as Panama, reports said.

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