Taiwan can't follow international pork standards due to diet: Minister

TAIPEI, Taiwan- Taiwan cannot follow similar standards as Japan and Korea on US pork due to differences in dietary habits, stated Minister of the Council of Agriculture (COA) Chen Bao-ji on Tuesday.

The average Taiwanese consumed 34 kilograms of pork last year, higher than Japanese and Koreans, who consumed 15 kilograms and 24.4 kilograms, respectively, Chen stated.

On the other hand, beef consumption in Taiwan was an average of 5 kilograms per person, according to last year's statistics. If the nation followed the same ractopamine-laced US-pork standards as Japan and Korea, it would severely affect public health, Chen said.

US imported leanness-enhanced pork remained the topic of debate after the first presidential debate on Sunday, with Kuomintang (KMT) caucus members, along with Chen, coming out to refute Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen's stance on the pork issue at a press conference.

Countries worldwide implement ractopamine-residue standards according to the country's staple meat. Chen emphasised that Taiwan still maintained separate guidelines on pork and beef imports since opening up the nation to US beef.

"Why should Taiwan be accepting when there are so many countries that don't allow ractopamine-laced US beef?" Chen asked.

The two neighbouring Asian countries have implemented restrictions, he said. Ractopamine residue pork is completely banned in domestic products in Japan, while imports with 10 ppb ractopamine are allowed; Korea allows 10 ppb of residue in both domestic products and imports.

Both countries also import pork mainly from New Zealand and Australia, the minister said. Mainland China, Russia and the European Union have all banned ractopamine pork.

Chen said that as pig farming is at the top of Taiwan's agriculture sector, in terms of production value, the government should not force the industry into a corner based on "one person's statement."

Taiwan currently allows US pork imports without ractopamine residues, yet as leanness-enhanced pork maintains a 10 per cent lower cost than otherwise, Chen stressed the importance of reconsideration.

KMT Deputy Party Secretary Alicia Wang pointed out that Tsai's statements implied that she was in favour of letting U.S pork with ractopamine residue into Taiwan by following Japanese and Korean standards.

Yet, Wang stated that the DPP caucus party had made their objections to such imports clearly before, suggesting the DPP only had one opinion: "what Tsai says goes."

It's Too Early to Say: Tsai

In response to media questions on her stance - allowing US ractopamine pork imports under certain conditions - Tsai stated that everything was still "too early to say."

"Nothing can be concluded when the negotiations haven't even begun," Tsai said. At Sunday's post-debate press conference, other than stating that US pork imports to Taiwan should follow international standards, she also denied that equaled opening up the market for imports.

People First Party presidential candidate James Soong and KMT candidate Eric Chu have both expressed their opposition to allowing the imports.

Chu stated during the presidential debate that Taiwan should not "blindly" follow international standards, but set up stricter guidelines. While in favour of Taiwan's bid for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) membership, Chu stated that Taiwan should still set up guidelines for US leanness-enhanced pork.