Ban Taiwanese pork NOW!

Ban it NOW: Big thanks to Keano for the image.

“Tests in Taiwanese pork showed the presence of salbutamol sulphate, an additive specialists describe as 2,000 times as toxic as ractopamine. The product stays inside the animals for a long time and at high levels, according to toxicologists.”

I posted this quote from a Taipei Times article on Facebook yesterday.

My purpose here is not to discuss whether Taiwan should ban products with ractopamine residue in them but just to highlight how the usual irrational,1 borderline xenophobic tub-thumping has displaced informed debate.

As I caustically commented when I posted the quote on Facebook: I presume we shall see demonstrations calling for a ban to be slapped on domestic pork products. If not, why not?

Understand me: I shan’t be boycotting Taiwanese pork anytime soon. My point is simply the same as that made by a colleague the other day: We have been loading crap into animals for decades and obliviously stuffing our faces with the resulting produce. If it wasn’t for the protectionist concerns of some farmers, the public would have been clueless about ractopamine. As is being amply demonstrated by the revelations each day seems to bring, most of us still are in the dark about what we’re eating and will continue to be  about anything but the odd product that some group has a vested interest in exposing.

In fact, it seems that many of the people I come across spouting off, with varying degrees of intelligence, on the issues involved have typically still failed to avail themselves of the facts. When I read people on Facebook and talk forums accusing the U.S. of palming off dangerous crap on Taiwan that they would not allow on the domestic market, it is clear they are not doing their homework.

Many countries actually allow many of these leanness-enhancers and the story about the Aussie and Kiwi beef samples testing positive for ractopamine and zilpaterol yesterday highlighted the murkiness of what we ever really know. Both countries ban the use of these drugs in cattle feed but it is erroneously being reported that Australia prohibits its use in all livestock. 2

What made me smile was the claim that the contamination might have been from Panamanian beef mixed in with the Aussie meat that was tested in Chiayi. The Taichung-based meat packer responsible kindly “offered to stop processing the rest of the beef from Panama” rather than being compelled to do so, which tells us that beef from Taiwan’s diplomatic ally is cushdie. Again – consistency people: I expect rabble-rousing at Burger King outlets islandwide, as the fast food chain imports this dangerous Panamanian beef.

When I think of the scaremongering over food in Taiwan, I can’t help but be struck by the following thoughts, among others:

1. I’ve eaten all kinds of things in my decade-plus in Taiwan. Chickens’ gonads; duck tongues; snake blood; festering, raw flying squirrel. Earlier this week – at the behest of my cousin-in-law –  I scraped out a couple of spoonfuls of goose brain from the halved pieces of the head that came with the neck. My son Herbie had a spoonful. Offal, including cerebral matter and spinal cords, which are surely always the dodgiest parts in terms of chemical residues and possibly lingering disease, are part of the diet in Taiwan. The reports on the BSE furore a few years back made me chuckle, as legislators harped on about the U.S. offloading tainted offal. It’s offal for Pete’s sake. How about just not eating organs?

2. Some of favourite dining spots in Taiwan are dingy little holes which would be shut down in a flash in many Western countries due to sanitary concerns. Cigarettes dangle from the mouths of the proprietors in  these establishments, ash crumbling off into my bowl of sesame noodles. My boiled egg is plopped on top with hands that, for hours, have been shovelling coins back and forth, and who knows what else, without so much as a quick rinse. (And this is just the minor day-to-day stuff. I have seen some jaw-dropping antics by staff and customers in eateries in Taiwan.) 

3. During my time at a newspaper here, reports of contaminated pork (sometimes sold off from animals that had died of disease) seemed to turn up every other week. The indignation that followed these incidents was usually reserved for the local authorities or the guilty parties. Even then, the complaints came from handfuls of individuals who were directly concerned rather than whole swathes of the population.

My trade-markedly convoluted point is that ractopamine is just the latest bandwagon, that we are all exposed to equally suspect additives and practices all the time without thinking twice about it, and that it’s pretty damn funny to see farmers from Pingtung who were part of the oinking mob last week, now moaning about the procedures3  the government is now putting into place. As ever, it didn’t take long for idiotic cries of conspiracy  to surface, either.

All I’m asking for is for people to calm down, and be rational and consistent about these matters. Let’s eschew the knee-jerk herd (sorry) mentality and unite in our demand for increased safety precautions for the good of everyone. BAN Taiwanese pork NOW.


  1. I use irrational here to describe the public outcry rather than the hog farmers’ protests outside the Council of Agriculture last week, which – whatever they were – were clearly motivated by rational self-interest; so too the braying of the grandstanding politicians.
  2. In this report,  Australia’s Department of Agriclture, Fisheries and Forestry makes it clear that it is used in pig feed.
  3. Note that “the COA will randomly single out ‘handsome-looking’ pigs for inspections.” Ooooh, you’re a fine looking swine!

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