Beta-Adrenergic Agonist Controversy Undercuts Government Credibility
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 16, 2012
Summary: The U.S. beef and Taiwan pork controversies have taught us a lesson. We face an endless stream of food safety issues. We must approach the problem from a scientific and rational perspective. We must uncover the truth and ascertain the severity of the problem. We must review of our policy direction and management techniques. Otherwise both the public and industry will suffer. The government will both remain mired in old problems and entangled in new ones. It will lose credibility, and contribute nothing to the solution of our problems.
Full Text below:
The U.S. beef controvery has raged for an entire month. This is no small feat, and is bringing with it new problems, It has led to a controversy over whether Taiwan pork contains beta-adrenergic agonists such as clenbuterol and ractopamine. Suddenly no one knows what meat is safe to eat, Government agricultural authorities were supposed to be the gatekeepers. What have they been doing? Is there really a conspiracy to attack Taiwan pork to divert attention from US beef? Another controversy is now sweeping the island, It is the topic on everyone's lips.
Is Taiwan pork safe or unsafe? Is there a conspiracy or not? Consider a story that has been circulating on the Internet.
A young man applies for a job, The interviewer is duly impressed. The young man and his parents assume the job is his. The family is overjoyed. But suddenly they receive a letter saying he has been rejected. The family is desolate. Despondent, the young man threatens suicide. Soon afterwards, the employer arrives to apologize. The notice was mailed to the wrong address. The young man has been hired.
The story does not end there. It goes on to show how the scenario unfolds in different countries and regions, with people of a different national character. In Japan the company says, if the young man cannot even endure such a minor setback, and threatens to commit suicide, how can he possibly cope with future work pressure? In Germany, the parents forbid the young man to report to work, If blunders as serious as this can happen, then company efficiency is clearly poor. The job is clearly one with no future. In America, the young man becomes a folk hero. He reports to work amidst cheering throngs. Lawyers to swarm about him and threaten to sue the company for causing him mental anguish.
On Taiwan scholars and experts of all political stripes. talking heads, civic organizations, emerge from the woodwork. They demand to know why he was first rejected then hired. Did someone with connections lobby on his behalf? Did the interviewer accept a bribe? Who was the young woman who accompaned the young man during his interview? Questions like these multiply. But does the young man ever get the job? No one knows, and no one cares.
The story is an allegory. Questions about food safety have arisen over U.S. beef, Taiwan pork, chicken, and goose containing beta-adrenergic agonists. The real issue is what toxins are involved, and in what amounts? The former concerns the nature of the toxin. The latter concerns the amount. The nature and amount of the toxin must be made clear. Only then can we conduct a risk assessment. Only then can we decide whether to allow their sale. How should the government determine the permissible limits? Not by attacking pork to divert attention from beef. That hardly addresses the problem. We must retrace our steps. So what if the conspiracy theories are true? The uncovering of domestic inspection loopholes or unscrupulous breeders using illegal drugs is forcing the government to remedy the situation. That is hardly a bad thing.
That said, the authorities should be ashamed. The AIT's Taipei Office Chief issued a list of Taiwan agricultural products containing hundreds of illegal additives. It presented scientific evidence. Leave aside the issue of whether the government made concessions and allowed US beef imports, at least for the moment. How can our own agricultural authorities face the public? Have consumers been ingesting toxins on a daily basis? Why was everyone unaware of this?
The agricultural authorities explained that they uncovered these violations long ago. They merely failed to publicize them, Either that, or they publicized them but the media failed to report them. Blaming the media in this manner is extremely unfair. The Government Information Office (GIO) recently issued a press release on domestic pork with salbutamol, It contained only one word: salbutamol. But is salbutamol more toxic than ractopamine? The report said nothing. Do government agencies expect citizens to be experts in toxicology? Do they expect citizens to understand the significance of these reports at a glance? The government did its job, but failed to communicate with the public. As the expression goes, it "performed twice the work, and received half the credit." It performed a truly thankless task.
The public is bickering over U.S. beef imports. It ought to be more concerned about food safety inspections. Legislators are applying pressure, Health Director Wen-Ta Chiu has made a commitment. Beginning next week the government will conduct lot by lot inspections of U.S. beef imports. Is such a promise realistic? The Food and Drug Administration has a staff of only 45, spread out over four control centers on the island: north, south, east, and west. Currently customs has the ability to sample 5% of the U.S. beef entering the country. Beef imports from past offenders are sampled at a 20% rate, or more. The Department of Health has committed to test every batch of beef from every country. Privately, officials confide that this is unreasonable and unscientific. Other countries could protest the erection of non-tariff barriers. It could lead to international trade disputes.
The U.S. beef and Taiwan pork controversies have taught us a lesson. We face an endless stream of food safety issues. We must approach the problem from a scientific and rational perspective. We must uncover the truth and ascertain the severity of the problem. We must review of our policy direction and management techniques. Otherwise both the public and industry will suffer. The government will both remain mired in old problems and entangled in new ones. It will lose credibility, and contribute nothing to the solution of our problems.