US beef ribs removed from shelves over leanness drug


TAIPEI — U.S. beef ribs sold in two hypermarkets in Taipei were pulled off shelves after residue of the banned leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine was detected, the city’s health department said yesterday.

The contaminated goods were found at the Neihu branches of RT-Mart and Carrefour. The samples tested had 2.9 ppb and 1.8 ppb of ractopamine, respectively, officials said.

Both meats were supplied by a food importer in New Taipei City, they said.

New Taipei’s health authorities have been asked to help recall and destroy other contaminated meat products from the importer, which can be fined up to NT$6 million (US$203,389) for violating the Act Governing Food Sanitation.

Ractopamine is allowed in feed in 20-plus countries around the world but is banned in Taiwan, China, the European Union and more than 100 other countries.

The United States has been pressuring Taiwan to change its zero-tolerance policy on ractopamine by delaying the resumption of bilateral talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement.

Amid speculation that the government might ease its ractopamine ban as a result of U.S. pressure, local cattle and pig farmers and the Consumers’ Foundation have threatened to stage a protest in Taipei later this month.

The Department of Health (DOH) said Monday that the ban on ractopamine remains in place and that the DOH will deal with substandard beef products in accordance with existing laws and regulations.

While local health officials will continue to test meat products sold in markets on a regular basis, the DOH will also strengthen customs inspections of the goods, said Tsai Shu-chen, head of the Food Safety Division under the Food and Drug Administration.

The human body can tolerate and process moderate amounts of ractopamine residues in meat. At excessive doses, however, the drug can cause adverse effects such as nausea, muscle tremors, increased blood pressure and increased heart rate, according to health experts.

The U.N. Codex Alimentarius Commission had considered adopting a maximum residue level of 10 ppb for ractopamine but later decided to delay the adoption.