TAIPEI (Reuters) – A heated debate in Taiwan about U.S. pork imports has been “needlessly politicised” as all U.S. food exports are safe, Washington’s de-facto embassy in Taipei said on Monday, ahead of two days of planned protests later in the week.
President Tsai Ing-wen’s decision in August to allow imports of U.S. pork containing ractopamine, a leanness-enhancing additive banned in the European Union and China, has roiled Taiwan politics.
The main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party opposes the move on safety grounds, staging noisy protests and flinging pig entrails in parliament on one occasion. It has called for two days of protests outside parliament on Wednesday and Thursday.
The government says nobody will be forced to eat the pork and that the move brings Taiwan into line with international norms.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said all U.S. food exports to Taiwan and its other trade partners were safe.
“Unfortunately, U.S. pork has been needlessly politicised, creating unfounded concerns about its safety among Taiwan consumers,” it said.
“AIT’s goal is to avoid the political debate around this issue, while ensuring that consumers have the information they need to feel confident when consuming U.S. products, just as they have for decades,” it added, providing a link to a fact sheet on the U.S. food safety regime.
Last week the institute decried “disinformation” from politicians about food safety after the mayor of the central Taiwanese city of Taichung, the KMT’s Lu Shiow-yen, expressed her concerns about the pork issue to the top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan, Brent Christensen.
The issue is extremely sensitive for Taiwan’s government as the United States is the Chinese-claimed island’s most important international backer and supplier of arms.
Taiwan’s government hopes the easing of the U.S. pork imports will pave the way for a long-hoped for free trade deal with Washington.
Most pork consumed in Taiwan is domestically-reared, with only a tiny percentage currently coming from the United States.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Susan Fenton)