Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An American Beef

Everybody's got a beef with the US at the moment over the local government's decision to allow US beef into Taiwan.

Students in all my classes today complained to me about it, feeling put upon by the mighty US. The perception that the US had forced Taiwan to open its market to a dangerous product, that the US was acting in a high-handed manner that was ignorant of local fears, was only heightened by AIT Director William Stanton's remarks, widely disseminated in the local media (David on Formosa with a great report), that it was more dangerous to ride a scooter in Taiwan than to eat US beef. Nothing like insulting your hosts after forcing them to open their markets to you to really win those hearts and minds.

Taiwanese reaction was swift. Officials in major cities, including Taipei mayor Hau, asked local businesses to form an alliance to reject US beef -- Hau called on all 15,000 of the city's major food establishments to get involved. Several local trade groups and beef importers promised not to import "risky" beef products, including ground beef. Apple Daily had an almost full page spread on the issue. The DPP's pulchritudinous politico Bi-khim Hsiao observed that the government had gotten nothing out of the permission for US beef to enter, although as several papers reported the other day, opening the market to US beef was a prerequisite for talks on a trade agreement with the US. Feelings are clearly running high, with a China Times poll saying 71% opposed the decision (here).

The symbolism of beef on all sides is fascinating. In South Korea the decision to open the market to US beef was widely seen as a total capitulation (Wiki page, fascinating stuff), and the decision was caught up in other central government follies, reverberating into a major political issue. Here too that dynamic was going full blast, with the government accused of incompetence, and beef becoming a pawn in the KMT's internal faction fights as Taipei Mayor Hau appeared to set himself in opposition to the President, and conspiracies involving NSC head Su Chi, often portrayed as Rasputin to Ma's Czar Nicholas, and commonly said to be the source of many controversial decisions. Su Chi himself said that the Presidential Office had guided the decision, and that it was to balance the "disequilibrium" in US-China-Taiwan relations. The outlandish claims that the Wiki page on South Korea reports were replicated today in my class, as students claimed US beef would certainly kill them.

The US Meat Federation says Taiwan is the nation's sixth largest market for US beef, whose total exports were a whopping $3 billion annually. For the sake of the profits of a few large meat producers the US decided to expend its political capital on this trivial product. Is there no issue in which we can behave with grace as a secure and powerful nation?

Fear of globalization? Reaction to feelings of powerlessness? Symbol of how Taiwan is caught between great powers on every side? You make the call.
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Thoth Harris said...

Insulting his hosts? C'mon. It is dangerous to drive here. While the U.S. might have been pushy, it is hardly anything out of which to make a big deal! Mad Cow Disease is old hat, and the dangerous has pretty much passed. There is always the danger that one country or another will have problems with it (Canada had one or two cows with CJD, and I think England had a lot). Heck, even Taiwan, with the few cows we have here, could end up having one or two cases. The problem isn't America, before importing, or aliens. The problem is over-consumption of animal products, overcrowding of farms (not real farms, but what should be call animal slaughter, and animal dairy factories), and animal cruelty. Yes, I am a vegetarian, and yes I am a hypocrite (because I do consume dairy and love it, and am not a "real vegetarian" because I eat seafood), so I am preemptively shutting up any worn-out, cliché attacks against me and what I am saying. But my lifestyle doesn't validate what I am saying. Developed countries, who are most subject to my criticisms, are at fault for grotesque over-consumption. It is grotesque! Eating contests? Amusing, but really, very repellent. TV sitcoms that aggrandize overeating beef or pork as being really quite manly? Horrifyingly shallow and grotesque. Nobody has any self-restraint or ethics these days. No wonder there are so many gang-rapes, mass-shootings, school massacres, child-prostitution rings. How we treat one another is reflected by how we treat animals. Have a little restraint! That is all I am saying. People who consume without thinking and sadistically consume flesh without even the slightest inhibition about it out to think. Otherwise, maybe a lot of us have CFJ coming to us.
Sorry for the rant, Michael, but opening the borders to meat is the least of people's worries. Now enjoy a good burger (preferably if it's not Burger King or McDee's!), but don't eat too much and don't enjoy it too much!

Anonymous said...

What I love about this issue is how it divides people into new political lines. Some KMT and DPP can actually agree. Americans are divided against Taiwanese. Are you patriotic or superstitious? Do you trust what the educated scientific government man says or the regular Joe man-on-the-street's fears? Ha ha and now vegetarians vs meat-atarians. I get the distinct feeling that Michael himself does not know where to stand on this issue since he can't find his regular make-a-stand position. You make the call indeed.

Stefan said...

Hmm - seems a bit out of balance compared with the reaction to contaminated Chinese products which were let in.

I think Ma handled this really badly - sure sometimes you have to make concessions to other countries. Particularly so if you depend on them politically, as Taiwan does on the US. However he could have setup a panel of health experts and gotten a recommendation that the restrictions could be lifted now. In all likelihood he wouldn't even have had difficulties in getting a favorable recommendation.

The guy from AIT didn't do a very good job either. The department of agriculture can't do much about scooters can they? And right or wrong, most people don't like being told the truth about problems in their own countries, by representatives of other countries. His statement would have had much better effect without any scooter references.

馬諾Manuel said...

Nothing is so scary like English beef.
I don't think that the American beef is a health issue.

I guess from my Korea, Japan experience that the American beef issue is used as a symbol. The children grew up and want to show uncle Sam that they are strong, independent and not afraid.

Plus the US playing the role of the beef issue to big. So it became a tool to hit directly into the US government's face without risking too much like arm sales and military support.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure it is merely symbolism.

If the statistics are right and US cows with mad cow are 1 in 2000, sure, your chances of getting mad cow are low, but they really aren't low enough, especially if you eat ground beef that's a mix of who knows what. If you eat only muscle that helps very significantly. But the dangerous parts can be very dangerous; with all the mixing and grinding going on with ground beef, who knows how much meat ends up contaminated?

Mad cow isn't E. Coli (though that's a severe problem with US beef too); the root of the problem are prions. Prions are deformed proteins that are nearly indestructible and appear to only need a copy of a regular protein in order to replicate. They are so indestructible that it appears to take a strong acid and over an hour of high heat in order to denature them.

If mad cow-free Taiwan is contaminated, with the long persistence of prions, there's no telling what part of the food chain will become tainted. What if the cattle (bones or other non-desirable parts) are given as feed to Taiwanese cows or other livestock? Mad cow doesn't even show up in humans until 8-10 years later. We don't even know the full extent of the disease yet because it takes so long to show symptoms and to get properly diagnosed for it.

Of course, the whole problem with this whole scam is US beef is cheap because of some pretty gross agricultural engineering. They feed cows, who are by nature herbivores, reprocessed cow scraps as well as literally bullshit. Yes, they make the cows eat their own doodoo because it's high in protein.

The problem is you close the cycle. You are creating a cycle where not just prions, but all sorts of parasites have the opportunity to go from the cow, right back to the cow. This is also why using human waste as fertilizer for crops is also generally a bad idea. It's agricultural common sense, but US "ingenuity" thinks they are better than that.

And on top of all this, there still isn't full inspection for mad cow to try to make the US mad cow free again! They just simply throw their hands up and say the probability is low enough that everyone can just deal with it.

That the US takes one of its worst, most disgusting products and tries to dump it on Taiwan, Korea, and other smaller countries is just disgusting. It makes me embarrassed to be American.

Michael Turton said...

I get the distinct feeling that Michael himself does not know where to stand on this issue since he can't find his regular make-a-stand position.

No, I know where I stand, but my position is not relevant. I'm more interested in why it raises such strong feelings, and that I don't have a good grip on.

Michael Turton said...

Insulting his hosts? C'mon. It is dangerous to drive here. While the U.S. might have been pushy, it is hardly anything out of which to make a big deal!

It may be true, but it didn't need to be said, and surely not in that context!

Michael Turton said...

What I love about this issue is how it divides people into new political lines. Some KMT and DPP can actually agree.

Yes, it reminds of environmental issues that way, the nuke plant, and several others where the global and local collide.

Anonymous said...

I live in the U.S. and I don't eat U.S. beef. Japan tests every cow at a cost of pennies per cow. The U.S. could easily do the same but does not. Afraid of what it would find? The Bush administration actively fought such a requirement (, fearing harm to the meat industry. The worst of it is, I could eat beef containing prions tomorrow and not be affected until old age. It is perfectly reasonable to refuse U.S beef until the agriculture industry in the U.S. cleans up its act (or government regulators force it to do so).

Anonymous said...

Addition to previous comment: Apparently Europe also tests every cow. Like in health care and other regulatory areas, the U.S. lags.

“If you do testing of 100 percent of your animals, any ones that test positive never go into the food chain,” said Michael Hansen of Consumers Union. “That’s in part why they do it in Europe because they’ve seen animals that look perfectly fine and they catch them just before they go to slaughter.”

Anonymous said...

What the AIT man said is true. Scooters ( cars too!) here either don't have signal lights, or the driver doesn't know how to use one and maybe they just don't care!

But this surely is not the result of eating American beef!

And what can you expect when an American (AIT Director William Stanton) makes deals with another American (pres. Ma) ?


Anonymous said...

More comments from the AIT director. I love how he puts our ex-health minister on the spot.

dixteel said...

To me this thing has 2 sides.

One is sometimes the US really has to watch what it is doing. I am sure they have already stir up quite a bit of anti-US sentiment in South Korea, and now they want to try it on Taiwan? Do they ever learn their lesson? If Obama wants to make the US a leader again, he has to take this type of things into account.

And this type of thing can be used by local politicians to stir up anti-American atmosphere. That is exactly what the KMT is doing right now. The US really needs to consider their long term goal instead of short term gain. Can the US leads the world by selling cow bones and organs? Absolutely not. So why try so hard to pissed off other people.

The second thing is that this basically just shows Ma's incompetence once again. It is very obvious that you cannot trust this guy to negotiate with anyone. If he cannot even handle the US pressure, how the F can he handle China? And I think a lot of people see it now that is why Ma's rating goes down once again despite KMT's effort to put the blame solely on the US.

Anonymous said...

Has no one mentioned the simple fact that if you don't want American Beef that you are free to buy Australian or NZ beef? It is a fungible(sp?) commodity after all. I'm personally looking forward to a grilled T-bone.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...

Has no one mentioned the simple fact that if you don't want American Beef that you are free to buy Australian or NZ beef?"

This is a very standard pseudo-free market position. Basically, the Bush position of less regulation, let the markets sort it out.

From an economics point of view, there are very good reasons for desiring minimum standards of quality. For example, since Taiwan's inspection regime is not very strong, the rational Taiwanese consumer will come to believe that there will be many cases of mislabling origins, beef not directly bought by the consumer (i.e. restaurants) will hide their American origins, and that banned parts, such as bone, spine, brain, etc. will at times be mixed into feed, scrapmeat, ground beef, etc.

In a case where suppliers know a lot more than consumers, there becomes a widespread devaluation of all-like goods because you can't tell the good from the bad. This of course is undesirable since it makes supposedly cheap US beef expensive, raises the price of Australian/NZ/Taiwan beef, and hurts the profits of domestic untainted beef. It's not simply just a neutral choice--it will screw up prices because information isn't transparent.

That there is a close substitute in good supply--Australian & NZ beef--is actually good reason for the opposite of what you say. It means that Taiwan can safely reject high risk parts of American beef without any harm to their consumers.

Karl said...

Does the U.S. government still subsidize beef producers?

Do Taiwan's beef producers receive government support?

What % of the Taiwan beef market is supplied by imports?

Besides Australia and Japan, what other country's beef is imported here?

Anonymous said...

I heard on TV from some Taiwanese woman was that Su Chi's first wife was a "white American" and his children were "American" and that he wants all Taiwanese to die.

But I am paying close attention, because I want to learn all the pointers to set up an anti-Taiwan product group in the USA.

I'm not sure I can work in the "his ex-wife is a foreigner" bit, but definitely Taiwan's electronics contain POISON and should not be allowed to be imported. (Its for the children, etc. etc.)

Oh, and why is anyone still eating Cow brain or spinal cords? FROM ANY COUNTRY. You think a prion knows a Taiwanese cow brain from and English one?

And why did Mad Cow spread so far in the UK? Traditional markets where the butcher handled lots of meats and did not keep things clean enough - sound familiar, Taiwan?

Tim Maddog said...

Key word: offal (sounds [like] "awful").

Tim Maddog

Anonymous said...

Has no one mentioned the simple fact that if you don't want American Beef that you are free to buy Australian or NZ beef?

The same thing can be said about narcotic drugs which are the economic pillar of some developing countries. People sure can go for glues or special mushrooms, yet our government is fighting a "war" against narcotic importation.

Besides, mammal prions are environmental toxins that cannot be easily removed from the agriculture system. Our government is really good at extracting concessions from the Chinese Nationalists. I hope they can be equally effective with the Chinese Communists.

Anonymous said...

The KMT and their supporters are already suffering from brain wasting disease and defective spinal cords (weak back bones). What do they care if Taiwanese get infected.

Seriously though what Taiwan should do is replay Fast Food Nation and let the consumers decide for themselves. (plus pass a law that the cords and brains can't be used in cow/pig/chicken/cat/dog food).

I wonder why the US commerce dept is insisting on shipping these parts to Asia? If it were just the steak cuts, it wouldn't really be an CFJ/prion issue. It seems like they are making it more complicated than need be.

vin said...

Anon 4:41 p.m.:

You appear to HAVE mad-cow disease.

And if you don't, may the gods grant dispensations, because your brain's output here falls alarmingly short of intelligent.

Arty said...

Does the U.S. government still subsidize beef producers?

US subsidize beef producers through corn subside...just this is enough.

As for testing for Madcow or prion, it is a joke. All cow will be negative if you kill them before 2 years old. Prion protein has its normal function and is expressed in all animal brains. Yes, you have prion, too, just not the pathogenic kind. If you read epidemiology report on Madcow disease in England, you will realize that the transmission is not likely due to beef consumption. It is likely through the bone-meal all patients have in contact with (they are all big gardeners!!!).

The thing I don't get, can we find a Chinese-American to run AIT?

Anonymous said...

"raises the price of Australian/NZ/Taiwan beef"

Apologies, that should be lowers demand and the perceived value for AU/NZ/TW beef.

Robert R. said...

"The thing I don't get, can we find a Chinese-American to run AIT?"

Oooh, good idea. And we can get a Pakistani-American to be our ambassador to India, a Palestinian-American to go to Israel, a Japanese-American to China, and John Bolton to the UN.


Arty said...

Oooh, good idea. And we can get a Pakistani-American to be our ambassador to India, a Palestinian-American to go to Israel, a Japanese-American to China, and John Bolton to the UN.

Okay, Taiwanese-American if you want to be specific. I bet is not hard to find one. Regardless of ethic background, I think all Americans should make it clear to others that American interests tramp everything (not our principle, not justice, not democracy etc).

Anonymous said...

The issue is no longer about the US beef safety itself. Just like the English beef in Hogarth's painting, the imported US beef has been infused with intense sentiments of a nation; only that these are not sentiments of pride, but of great frustrations and anger.

The People are angry of a 'central' government that is outwardly incompetent and downright arrogant and malicious against its own citizens. They are angry and frustrated at being slaves of their collective fate, instead of being Masters. They fear for the future and resent the government that so far fails so badly at its sworn duty of safeguarding the sovereignty and common interest of the People. They now see every word coming from the government as a lie.

To see this only as a meat safety issue is missing the point. Our government has humiliated us by surrendering so completely to the US in such a negotiation that has critical importance to the health and safety of the citizens of Taiwan. The government that supposedly should protect us against harm now adds insults to injury by relegating the duty of safeguarding food safety to the consumers. Imagine FDA telling the US taxpayers that they should watch out for themselves for plasters in their hamburger and rotten eggs in their milk! Our government has pushed us back 100 years to the age of the Jungle, as so horrifyingly described by Upton Sinclair. It pains most to a lot of the People on this island that the US, supposedly the best-bestest-friend-ever of Taiwan in the Universe, should shove bad meat down Taiwanese throat. "Our nation is in the throes of dying by Chinese annexation in 1000 cuts, and all our Best-Bestest-Friend-Ever would do is to give us mad cow." Yeah, that's how a substantial portion of people think here.

The political atmosphere here is so hideous that there are even rumors that the Ma government purposely throw in the towel on the US beef talks so as to incite anti-US feelings and foster pro-China sentiments; so as to test-case forcing the signing of ECFA in the near future, a la beef.

So, even if US beef imports are technically 100% safe (which I doubt so, since included in the stuff that is now allowed to enter Taiwan, at least on paper, are offal and central nervous system, which have much higher likelihood to be infested with PrPsc, the disease-causing form of Prion protein), it would still be in the eye of the firestorm that focuses all the frustration and pain and anger at this malicious regime currently ruling Taiwan.

It tells us Ma's regime Simply Doesn't Care.

Now, if Ma and his Rasputinish henchman Su get their way to play the anti-US card, well, to all the Americans here who think it's all fun and game here--teaching English to kiddos and silly munchkins, hitting the bars and hooking up with some starry-eyed groupies, generally having a blast and feeling cool--to all of you, beware, you are treading in bad water, you just haven't seen it yet--or you have already.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe the ridiculous information posted here, as amusing as it is. Taiwan has every right to restrict beef imports from the US, and the US can act in kind by banning "hazardous" sub-standard computer parts. It would just be nice to see the Taiwan government show some consistency in their concern for citizens and ban cigarettes and alcohol, too. And for the general population to be so fearful of US beef is one of Taiwan's only successful marketing campaigns, albeit political propaganda. For such an educated nation, this beef import issue has surely shown some irrational decision making. I agree in letting the market decide. Everything's got something in it that will kill you; let me choose my own poison.