Sunday, February 26, 2012

Will somebody please kill the beef issue?

I had a great ride today from Taichung to Shanhua station in Tainan, 170 kms, flat and with a tailwind. But at Shanhua Station the ticket guy insisted I had to bag my bike even though, as you can plainly see, and as he saw on his computer screen, it was a roll-on, roll-off express. Argh!!!! This is why when people ask, "Can I put my bike on the train?" So many of us veterans of this system answer: "It depends....on the station personnel."

And so I am unhappy to report that the US-Taiwan beef issue continues to vex the relationship. In my more paranoid moments I wonder whether that is its real function -- to provide an excuse for inaction on a number of issues by both sides but especially the US, but as the old saw goes, you should never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. And this issue is really, really stupid. Like the zombie issue it is, it cries out for brains....

The Taipei Times has had a slew of stories on it recently, signaling that it's been a slow news month. Today featured President Ma Ying-jeou vowing to protect public health and food safety....
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday reiterated the government’s open stance on the US beef imports issue and insisted that his administration had not made any promises to the US, pledging not to risk public health over the issue.


Ma said yesterday that Chen and the lawmakers reached a consensus on the issue and that the government would continue to prioritize public health and food safety.
Yes, our vegetables are coated with chemicals, our water is undrinkable, our pork is an antibiotics manufacturer's display case, and our roads are a white-line nightmare, but by god, the government will fight to keep ractopamine out of imported beef.

DPP and other opposition lawmakers boycotted the premier's six hour address yesterday until he promised to maintain the ban on US beef until at least June, so we have another four months of this farce. The result of the agreement between the government and the legislature was reported by the China Post:
First, the Executive Yuan would not issue any decree to allow the import of meat containing residual amounts of the leanness-enhancing additive in the near future.

Second, the Legislative Yuan would make the legal issue concerning the leanness-enhancing additive for livestock the first priority for the Legislature.

Third, the Executive Yuan would abide by the new law passed by the Legislative Yuan.
Doncha just love (2) above? All the problems that Taiwan has, but our priority is this idiot beef issue.

Even worse, it was DPP and TSU legislators out there protesting. What they should have done was lose, and force the Ma government to make a decision. Since in the end the government will issue regulations and take credit for improved relations with the US, the DPP has nothing to lose by forcing the government to accept the domestic opprobrium. More below....

Meanwhile legislators from the DPP, KMT, and PFP put out seven proposals for dealing with the issue, even though it could be decided by Administrative fiat.

Don Shapiro of the American Chamber of Commerce wrote a couple of weeks ago on the issue, which I duly blogged on. Shapiro observed:
American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei delegation that visited Washington last autumn was still surprised by the vehemence of the criticism of Taiwan it heard from American officials on the subject. One high-level official described Taiwan flatly as “an unreliable trading partner,” for example, while another said the disagreement over beef had “cast a pall” over the entire bilateral relationship. Beef had taken on a symbolic importance far out of proportion to its monetary value of less than 1 percent of U.S. exports to Taiwan.
The US position on the beef issue is absurd, but the DPP's is simply self-defeating as Shapiro's observations attest. The pan-Green opposition owns this issue and the US knows it. Clearly beef is important to the US and the DPP really ought to consider catering to its interests if it wants to claim that the DPP is a party that is pro-US and offers a rational alternative to the KMT. Here is a nation that might at some point get its children killed to preserve the freedoms of Taiwanese and yet it won't buy their beef? It's time for the parties in Taiwan to sit down and work out a solution of an acceptable level of ractopamine as Shapiro suggests, and go forward. This issue needs to die ASAP; there are TIFA talks to hold.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Anonymous said...

Is ractopamine present in US domestic beef?

J. Stossel

Steve said...

Michael, that about sums it up. Agree with everything you wrote.

Mark said...

More and more and more reasons to consider vegetarianism.

On a slightly related topic... as a British living in Asia I am not allowed to donate blood here due to the fact that I lived in Britain during the mad cow disease scare. Fun.

Anonymous said...

Taiwanese produce are so laden with chemicals and pesticides, at levels well above what is safe in the U.S. If these idiots protesting know anything about science, they would know that chemicals from produce when ingested, are a lot more carcinogenic than any trivial amounts of growth medication in beef. No I am not an apologist for the meat industry, just that I have a background in biochem and also have more than a passing interest in nutrition.

Seriously, all I see on Taiwanese news are Jeremy Lin, poisonous U.S. beef, and some slutty/ drunk singer named Makiyo. These news stories make me think that Taiwanese in general have a very provincial mindset.


Michael Turton said...

Jen, my friend Jeff says Taiwan is a nation with the heart of a province.....

J Stossel, yes, see teh WIki page on it for details.


Rand Luger said...

WTF is the US thinking? How could it possibly be in US strategic interests to be picking a fight with Taiwan over a trivial export that MOST OF THE WORLD finds politically unpalatable? Most of the world does not find it easy to import US beef. Korea only did it with huge amounts of US pressure. Obama's foreign corp looks incompetent...

Michael Turton said...

I quite agree, Rand, but there is nothing you can do about the US in this case; they are are determined to poison their own people and the world's over an issue that is totally trivial.

Unfortunately Taiwan needs the US; but US policymakers do not think they need Taiwan. Hence, it behooves Taiwan to suck it up in this instance. The best way to suck it up is to set a minimum level. The public can avoid the issue by not buying US beef, which is not only the subject of a terribly lax oversight system but major producer of global warming gasses. That's the real win-win.


Chris W said...


What you pointed out -- that Taiwan needs the US -- makes sense and it's true. Here are my observation:

1. Is this a political maneuver? Yes. Because the DPP administration did think about removing the ban in 2007, which was why the protest of the pig farmers took place, to exchange for the TIFA negotiation.

2. The more important part of this dispute is not the beef. It is the US pork imports. Taiwanese pig farmers vehemently oppose the ractopamine because domestic production accounts for over 90 percent of the total consumption. They will be the ones who are affected the most once the ban is lifted.

3. The KMT still controls the majority in the LY. If it wants it can pass the law anytime.

4. I suppose that unfriendly US gestures during this past year, including its interference in the presidential election, gave the DPP and the TSU a bad taste in the mouth and motivation for their opposition to the relaxation.

5. Most people I talked to believe that the US is looking beyond Taiwan. It's ultimate target is the Chinese market.

6. I believe the ban will eventually be lifted, but it won't be lifted before a domestic MRL is reached or the CODEX settles on the MRL in July.

I would say that the US tries to press on the issue too soon either because 1) of the pressure of Obama's re-election bid or 2) Taiwan's presidential election, which was traditionally held in March, was held in January.

If Ma is re-elected in March and takes office in May, then it would be only two months away from the Codex meeting. However, due to Ma's decision to advance the election, there is now (at least) a six-month window for the dispute.


Michael Turton said...

Thanks Chris, I hadn't thought of the problem of the election timing and the CODEX timing.


Taiwan Echo said...

Couple of things I wanna point out:

1. The anti-beef protest is all over the country. The DPP simply rides the wave. It's not like the DPP's leading charge resulting in the anti-beef movement;

2. The KMT legislators are against beef agreement, too, most probably due to the voices coming from the locals;

3. The way Ma government handles it is not acceptable --- the so-called
experts-evaluated meeting seems to invite only those pro-US-beef "experts", and they don't seem to have interest making it transparent to the people;

4. As for "Taiwan needs US", it's not long after the election in which common realization (in the green camp) is an election that the US government's interference helped Ma get elected. In spite of the fact that the US warned China not to interfere Taiwan election, they did it themselves. That doesn't seem to be a good ground to convince Taiwanese with "Taiwan needs US" argument.

I am not sure how much of this #4 plays into the beef issue. But at this moment, the general impression about Uncle Same I got from the green camp is certainly not a pleasant one.

Michael Turton said...

. The anti-beef protest is all over the country. The DPP simply rides the wave. It's not like the DPP's leading charge resulting in the anti-beef movement;

Echo, it was Chen Shui-bian who banned US beef. The DPP boycotted Sean Chen's speech until he promised not to do anything. It sure looks to me like the formal effort is DPP led.

More importantly, who do you think the US blames?

If the Green camp wants US support it has to make some gestures where it can. Beef is an obvious issue. And the obvious way to do it is a compromise on the amount of ractopamine allowable. There is nothing to be done about it; the US is behaving childishly, and they hold the cards. That simple. The DPP need to stop making noise on this issue and let a compromise be established. Hopefully it will happen this summer.


Anonymous said...

It is been going around that the beef exported to EU does not contain ractopamine. My would question, why can't the US just export the beef under the same standards as shipped to the EU?


Anonymous said...

Say what you want you highbrow twits--We all know damned well you guys are trying to sneak peeks in at next magazine every time a new one comes out.

Taiwan Echo said...

"Echo, it was Chen Shui-bian who banned US beef."

Michael, Taiwan's current law is "no ractopamine is allowed," including domestic beef. What Chen did was simply not allowing the foreign beef to have a privilege over domestic beef.

If Chen followed your suggestion, then there will be two beef standards: a harsher one for the domestic one, and a looser one for the import.

In order to open US beef import without putting the domestic horticulture in extinct, the Legislative Yuan has to rectify the law. Which party in the LY had majority to change the law? It's the KMT. Did they change the law to make it happen ? Obviously not.

Under these circumstances, if we think that Chen, the then president, should have kept a blind eyes to the law and enforced the US import with administration power, then, why Ma Ying-jeou can do the same thing without blame? He could have enforced it with his adminstration power to follow through his agreement with the USA two years ago. Remember that Ma had both the administrative power and the legislation power under his belt. He was much more powerful than Chen was. Where's Ma's role in the picture of "DPP is to blame" ?

"The DPP boycotted Sean Chen's speech until he promised not to do anything. It sure looks to me like the formal effort is DPP led."

This statement seems to contradict what the following paragraph in this article says about the boycott:

"During the negotiation (in the LY), TUF's legislators, who originally insisted that Sean Chen promises never to allow US beef import, agree to the DPP's proposal, which is to ask Sean Chen not to use administrative order to force the ractopamine-related meat import before proper laws are made."

What the DPP asked Sean Chen is not "not to do anything," but "not to do anything beyond the law." They offered a softer and lawful approach. What's wrong with DPP legislators' insisting on following the law ?

I also want to point out that not only the green legislators are on the front line. The KMT legislators are among those leading legislators insisting a law change before agreement with the US is reached, and the PFP is among those considering a recall of the cabinet. It's an act of all, including the oppositin parties and the ruling party, but not just the DPP as you picture.

"More importantly, who do you think the US blames?"

If the US reads it like you do -- that is, getting rid all the signs of blue involvement and only picks what the DPP did and distort it in someway, then we all know whom they are gonna blame.

Well, that's not the first time the USA did that. Remember "who's the trouble makers across the Taiwan Straits" ?

The sad thing is: if people who know so much about Taiwan can read it wrong, how can we expect the USA to read it right?

Michael Turton said...

Echo, Chen shut down US beef imports in 2003 over the Mad Cow issue. These restrictions were lifted in 2009 but then the legislature decided to reverse that. Taiwan was now reneging on its agreement. Ractopamine became an issue only when US beef was finally tested.

Echo, I can't accept your claim that the government was merely making sure US beef was not privileged over local beef. There is so little local beef that this is not an issue.

Moreover, the government showed it did not care because it did not test for ractopamine. Ractopamine had been imported for years in US beef prior to the Mad Cow mess.

Now any US observer can see that the DPP has taken a sudden stand against ractopamine, complicating a very stupid issue, while Ma looks reasonable. The US doesn't care about what the legislature does, it knows that Taiwan's legislature is a barn of idiots. It's really that simple: the reasonable KMT administration against the unreasonable opposition.

Instead of extending this stupidity the DPP needs to be shutting it down. When the US comes around in 2016 looking for a friendly party, who do you think they will talk to?


Taiwan Echo said...

Michael, do you know DPP's stance in this current anti-US-beef movement?

This wave of anti-US-beef consist of more than 15 NGOs, leading by the Anti-US-Beef League (AUBL, 反美牛聯盟)。IT'S NOTHING TO DO WITH THE DPP. Their demand is to ban all US beef entirely, a stance that the DPP doesn't agree to, let alone lead the movement.

In fact, the DPP block a resolution of "Law ban US beef entirely" proposed by the AUBL in the legislative Yuan. Instead, they provided a softer resolution --- an approach exactly like the blue legislators are doing now. Like I pointed out earlier, they even convinced the TUF not to go the extreme path. For taking a softer stance, the DPP is blamed by both the the AUBL and many green supporters I knew for not "stand up for Taiwan". Some supporters claimed to withdraw their support to the DPP for this.

Now, after doing all these --- (1) not to endorse extreme measure of the major anti-US-beef forces, (2) convinced TUF not to do so, (3) using same approaches like the blue legislators have, (4) taking heat from their supporters for not going extreme --- how come the DPP is still the one to blame for this ?

This article,


reports that the AIT's William Stanton is taking the exact same point of view like yours, :

"他表示,台灣政府朝正確方向邁了一步,雖然他不知道立法院會怎麼思考,他了解民主進步黨強烈反對 ..."
"He said, Taiwan government is making progress on the right direction. Although he doesn't know how the Legislative Yuan will act, he understand that the DPP is against it strongly ..."

Yea right, he doesn't understand, but it's DPP's fault anyway. Why bother ?

Life sure is simpler and easier by ignoring all other more complicated and much-stronger anti-US-beef NGO forces and pin everything anti-America to the DPP. Just like the KMT pins everything Ma screwed to Chen SB. What really bothers me is that now you seem to function in the exact same way you have been criticizing for so long.

Taiwan Echo said...

"Chen shut down US beef imports in 2003 over the Mad Cow issue. These restrictions were lifted in 2009 but then the legislature decided to reverse that."

FYI: back in 2009, Taipei Mayor, Hau Lung-bin, was the one leading the charge against Ma Ying-jeou's US beef agreement, not the DPP. Hau's action triggered follow-up protests from all over the country. Where's Hau's leading role in the picture of "all DPP's fault"?


"Hau Lung-bin (Taipei Mayor), based on his expertise of food safety, is the first to hold a press conference to open fire at the central government (regarding Ma's US beef agreement), a move that even the green camp can only appreciate. Due to Hau's leading role of this current (anti) US beef movement, all political forces from the blue to the green camps, all the governments from the local to the central, can do nothing but adjust their approaches to follow his footstep.

Because Ma's total surrendering in the American beef talk, not only both the blue and green camps opened all front criticism, but also all the magistrates/mayors stood up against the central government's decision. Hau is the first one to start this wave of attack. Besides clearly expresses his opposition stance, he announces to push a "Reject use of American Beef Internal Organs etc Auto Management League" to lead the movement, and is crowned the First Anti-Beef Worrier. "

Taiwan Echo said...


The latest news: DPP seems to revert their original stance and now they endorse the ban resolution proposed by the Anti-US-Beef league:

"反美牛聯盟提「禁瘦肉精」立法 國民黨團拒簽署"

Taiwan Echo said...

Some more old pieces to show who WAS responsible for anti-US-beef:


AIT showed an old document that Chen in 2007 once "promised" USA to open the gate to US beef. I didn't have time to verify that, though. But it shows that in the eye of AIT's, Chen back then waw not entirely anti-beef.

AIT強調 承諾美牛是「扁」不是「馬」


Article and Video snapshot clearly shows that, back in 2007, Ma Ying-jeou announced his strong opposition against the US beef, by saying, among other things, "absolutely no Ractopamine is allowed"

藍綠互控昨是今非! 馬昔反瘦肉精今挺

So, back in 2007, the leading politicians in the blue camp, including Ma Ying-jeou and Hau Lung-bin (as mentioned my previous comment), were among those ruined Taiwan's beef deal with USA.

It's not fair to pin this solely to the DPP.

Michael Turton said...

Echo, it's not fair, but that's what is happening now. And now the DPP has increased its stupidity by sayin there will be no US beef in the counties and cities it rules. Time to be silent on this issue and let the beef flow in...


Taiwan Echo said...

Michael, you seem to forget that the DPP is a party based on Taiwanese need, not the American's. She has to answer to Taiwanese first (for survival) before she can answer to any foreign power. They cannot go one way when the majority of Taiwanese people go the other. If they do (like you wish) they'd be losing support. That's how stupidity is defined.

In this event, I didn't see any other source in Taiwan criticizing the DPP. Many commented that Ma Ying-jeou fall on the same stone twice --- Ma treated this round of trade talk as badly (if not worse) as he did in the first one back in 2009, and failed both of them miserably.

That is true. But, IMO, the most terrible performance in this disaster is the Americans. Either they knew in advance how Taiwanese will respond but decided to force it by going secret agreement with Ma (ignoring the public opinions completely), or they have no idea at all how Taiwanese will respond (even after two fails). The first reason signifies that they are playing barbarian, the 2nd proves they are un-informed, showing that they don't really understand, or have no intention to understand Taiwan.

If Ma falls on the same stone twice, the Americans fall on the same stone three times in a roll (2007, 2009, 2012). They repeated the same mistakes without learning what's going sour.

In fact, they behave much much worse this time. After their blunders led to all these confrontations, they tried to take control of the situation by crossing the line of diplomacy. The AIT officers forgot the line of international negotiation between governments, and steps into Taiwan's conflict by starting to make stupid comments and to deliver threats to Taiwanese one after another in direct talks with Taiwanese people. They already forgot what their role should have been.

These are those whose incompetence and repeated blunders pushed the issue to the point of no return. The US government should have paid more attentions to the quality of the diplomats they sent to Taiwan, if they really want to win Taiwanese business.

Michael Turton said...

US diplomats aren't the problem -- policy is made in Washington by corporate power, not by common sense . The US has obviously become ridiculous but since it holds all the cards there is little Taiwan can do.

Although that excellent piece in the TT today informed me of something I did not know....

If I am the only source criticizing the DPP, more power to me. Someone has to carry on that lonely task... :)


Taiwan Echo said...

Don't know if you read this:

EDITORIAL: Speak the truth on US beef imports

and this:

Lifting beef ban ignores big picture (By Chan Shun-kuei 詹順貴)

If you did, and after all those counter arguments I shared, it's gonna haunt me if you still insist walking on the lonely path ... :)

"US diplomats aren't the problem -- policy is made in Washington by corporate power, not by common sense . The US has obviously become ridiculous but since it holds all the cards there is little Taiwan can do."

Oddly, I don't really blame the US policy ... they did it for the benefit of Americans. Every country does that. My complaint is on the way the US officials (that is, the AIT) dealt with it. They pretty much played the same role like China played --- force Taiwanese to give up something to agree with them using a method of threatening.

Furthermore, I don't think US hold the cards. They need Taiwan to buy their products. They have a long list of stuff waiting to sell to Taiwan. It's Taiwan who holds the cards.

Taiwan is incompetent to play those cards against the USA.

We have a president who is also a father of American citizens.

Anonymous said...

what evidence do you have that usa holds all the cards? they make no promises to do anything for taiwan. all they want is to dump their abnormal beef...