Pig farmers sue officials over lifting ban on animal drug


TAIPEI, CNA

A group of pig farmers, led by a Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) lawmaker, launched a lawsuit Friday against Department of Health (DOH) Minister Hou Sheng-mao and Bureau of Food Sanitation Director-General Cheng Hui-wen over the DOH’s decision to allow the use of a previously banned animal drug.

TSU lawmaker Yin Ling-ying and hog raisers lodged the lawsuit against Hou and Cheng at the Taipei Prosecutors Office on charges of dereliction of duty after the DOH announced Tuesday that it has decided to relax the ban on ractopamine — a veterinary drug which promotes lean meat in livestock — by the end of this month.

Ractopamine is banned in Taiwan, but two shipments of imported U. S. pork were found last month to contain the illicit drug, stirring up food safety concerns among local consumers.

Executive Yuan Spokesman Shieh Jhy-wei said a day earlier that the ban will be eased in late Aug. and U.S. imports containing minimum levels of ractopamine residue in different organs of pigs and cattle and their meat will be permitted, if no one voices opposition to the plan by Aug. 21.

In view of the government’s softened stance on the banned drug, thousands of hog raisers from across the country are slated to demonstrate in front of the DOH Aug. 21 should it fail to repeal the decision.

Yin accused the DOH of failing to detect ractopamine-tainted pork imports and criticized its arbitrary decision to remove the ban as a way to allow questionable U.S. imports to enter Taiwan. Arguing that the DOH has to put the public health concern in the first place, she lashed out at Hou for “hoodwinking” the public by amending the regulations pertaining to animal drug residue to facilitate U. S. imports.

Yin threatened to take pig raisers to the streets Aug. 22 and fully boycott U.S. pork if the DOH ignores their demands.

According to Lee Chen-jung,chairman of the pig-raising association in Taipei County, the government’s tailor-made opening to U.S. pork imports will have a profoundly negative impact on local husbandry, consumers, vendors and food processors.

The local industry is gravely concerned that the use of ractopamine will pose serious risks to the public’s health, but the government remains obstinate on its decision to ease the ban, Lee said.

In the face of mounting social pressure, Cheng said that he feels at ease and justified in his decision, while Hou’s aides said that the DOH chief remains calm and tranquil despite the lawsuit.