Moral Posturing Frustrates Real World Implementation
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 15, 2012
Summary: When political posturing takes precedence over decision-making, officials charged with implementation frequently end up merely going through the motions. Over the past six years, DPP and KMT administrations banned beta-adrenergic agonists. But they failed utterly to prevent them from reaching the market. As a result, the six counties and municipalities ruled by the DPP opposed only US beef imports. They need to look in the mirror. They need to clean house. They need to look at how pig farms in counties under their rule continued using illegal beta-adrenergic agonists with total impunity. They need to look at market shelves filled with beef products containing beta-adrenergic agonists, imported from other countries. When they persist in sanctimoniously waving the "No American Beef!" banner, aren't they underestimating the problem?
Full Text below:
The war over beta-adrenergic agonists such as clenbuterol and ractopamine has escalated beyond control. It has shaped the perception of the livestock and meat industry on Taiwan. The public initially assumed that beta-adrenergic agonist residues were a problem confined to U.S. beef imports. Who knew that Australian and New Zealand beef imports contained the even more toxic qipateluo? The public initially assumed that domestic livestock growers refused to use beta-adrenergic agonists. Who knew pig farmers on Taiwan have been using the illegal zilpaterol? The situation is out of control. Many well-known restaurants and food manufacturers have been caught in the net. The public is the ultimate victim.
The reality is so far removed from the rhetoric. This is what happens when opportunistic political posturing takes precedence over rational decision-making. By now people realize the magnitude of the challenge. This is more than a diplomatic and trade tussle over U.S. beef imports. This is a domestic disconnect between administrative efficiency and political commitment.
In 2006 the Chen administration trumpeted its total ban on beta-adrenergic agonists. People mistakenly assumed they were safe and secure. But the Chen administration's moral posturing was deflated by harsh reality. In 2009 the Ma administration responded to mad cow disease in the US. It established "three controls and five gateways." But who knew that beta-adrenergic agonists would slip through the net? Who knew that controls imposed at the source, at the border, and in the marketplace would all fail? The administration stopped mad cow disease, but allowed beta-adrenergic agonists to slip through the net. Preoccupied with U.S. beef, it let down its guard against beta-adrenergic agonists from New Zealand, Australian, and from here at home. What is the crux of the problem? Did political posturing or failed implementation lead to the policy debacle? Maybe both?
Take the "three controls, five gateways." The three contols, five gateways were established in response to mad cow disease in the US. Oversights during implementation were inevitable. The five gateways tested for "38 veterinary drugs, heavy metals and E. coli." But it allowed beta-adrenergic agonists to make their way onto market shelves, Its controls failed. On this point, the Ma administration cannot avoid blame. The government boasted that it would track down violations, one by one. But it failed to provide customs and inspection agencies with the necessary manpower and materiel. This led to less than 10% of the samples being tested. Can the central government really can blame lower echelon officials for inadequate implementation?
Now take industry responsibility for the irregularities. Since last year, the Department of Health and Customs tested over 200 batches of imported beef. About 20% failed to pass muster. The product was returned, removed from market shelves, or destroyed. But no fines were imposed on any industry. The government's net had a gaping hole: The importer or dealer was not considered the "perpetrator." He was not the one who added the beta-adrenergic agonists. Therefore according to the Food Sanitation Management Act, he cannot be punished. Ruling and opposition legislators have harshly condemned such violations. But they failed to pass the appropriate legislation. They failed to provide enforcement officials with the necessary authority. Opportunistic businessmen often take advantage of the situation. They have no fear of the government's "three controls, five gateways." On this point, the legislative branch can hardly shirk responsibilit y. It too was negligent.
A policy must be developed, then promoted. Verification, tracking, interpretation, and implementation is a long process. It is easy to lose one's way. It is easy to deviate from one's original goal. Take the penalties for non-compliance. The Department of Health does not consider the importers "perpetrators." Therefore it does not punish them. But Pingtung pig farms were caught using salbutamol. They used highly toxic, illegal beta-adrenergic agonists. Worse still, they were repeat offenders. Yet neither the central or local governments imposed any fines whatsoever. This was not merely hypocritical, it amounted to aiding and abetting. The government openly boasts that is the "champion of public health." But whenever industry ignores the law. it immediately becomes a "champion of industry." Is aiding and abetting law-breaking really compatible with ensuring food safety?
Former Department of Agriculture Epidemic Prevention Bureau Chief Hsu Tian was forced to step down for covering up the avian flu epidemic. He said he hid the truth for fear "the bottom would drop out of the chicken market." This was his excuse. Alas, it was probably what he was actually thinking. Lest we forget, Hsu Tian was the same person who formulated and implemented the "three controls, five gateways" policy, He occupied this important post -- guardian of public health. Yet in his heart he always put "management" and "chicken prices" above public health. How can the public expect individuals like this to implement public health policy?
When political posturing takes precedence over decision-making, officials charged with implementation frequently end up merely going through the motions. Over the past six years, DPP and KMT administrations banned beta-adrenergic agonists. But they failed utterly to prevent them from reaching the market. As a result, the six counties and municipalities ruled by the DPP opposed only US beef imports. They need to look in the mirror. They need to clean house. They need to look at how pig farms in counties under their rule continued using illegal beta-adrenergic agonists with total impunity. They need to look at market shelves filled with beef products containing beta-adrenergic agonists, imported from other countries. When they persist in sanctimoniously waving the "No American Beef!" banner, aren't they underestimating the problem?
2012.03.15 03:09 am