Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Musings on Beef and the US Shaping of Taiwan

The beef issue remains in the news as the government is busy conducting a propaganda campaign to convince the public that ractopamine-laden US beef is safe....
People First Party (PFP) caucus whip Thomas Lee (李桐豪) yesterday urged the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government to stop what it says is a propaganda campaign surrounding its policy to allow conditional imports of US beef containing residues of the feed additive ractopamine.

The Government Information Office (GIO) on Monday produced 250,000 leaflets and fliers to explain what ractopamine is, why the government plans to ease the import ban and the benefits the policy would bring the country.

Local governments and KMT lawmakers are responsible for handing out 10,000 copies, 100,000 copies were distributed with newspapers yesterday, while the rest will be distributed in magazines.

“Is the government a sales representative for a ractopamine producer? It should not use public funds to advertise the safety of a drug when its use is still banned in Taiwan,” Lee said, adding that his party was “extremely angry” that the government had mobilized public resources to “brainwash people.”
If you can get over the irony of a pan-Blue politician scolding the government for using public resources to brainwash people (not to mention that Lee once notoriously asked the public to kill the previous President), Lee's criticisms are dead on.

A local reporter pointed out to me that the beef issue is being closely watched by the other main beef exporters to Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand. If the US is able to force Taiwan to accept its beef (and pork!) with the leanness drugs, then those two nations can also export such beef (and pork!) to Taiwan. Given the rising incomes in China and greater demand for high-status foods like beef, one has to wonder whether US importers also have one eye on the China market in this spat with Taiwan, since ractopamine-treated beef is also banned in China. Recall too that Taiwan consumers have a preference for "sweeter" US beef and will switch to it if it is available, which may indicate the preferences of consumers across the Strait as well.

One thing that has struck me observing this controversy is how it reflects just one of the myriad ways that the US shapes Taiwan. It just so happens that this semester I am teaching an elective course on American Mass Culture and its Dissemination in the World, which is essentially a course in the creation and dissemination of the global consumer culture invented and promulgated by US corporations. The beef issue is a good example of US marketers using a blunt instrument to open markets to their products. Difficult to miss this influence.

From the corporate point of view, the purpose of cool is merely to sell goods to the youth market. That sort of thing, from the pervasive and jarring sight of hip-hop dancing in Taiwan to the omnipresence of US brands, is easily spotted.

But the US also organizes Taiwan in another fundamental way, and that is through the supply chain system with its networks of trading companies and OEM/ODM makers. These firms produce and ship products for the US market. The capabilities of these networks of production, once sometimes transferred or introduced from the US, how they are used by large global brands, and how they themselves grow and learn from US corporate practice, and from business school practices that globalize US management beliefs and training, influence many aspects of Taiwanese life, from the size of their salary to whether their firm has a grievance process, as well as what consumer products they use in their own lives. Beef is just the tip of the iceberg....
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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, and Taiwan sells ITS shitty Pop-acts and junk food a la Pearl Tea to the world (or at least China), a vicious cycle indeed!

Andrew Kerslake said...

What nice photos

Anonymous said...

"It just so happens that this semester I am teaching an elective course on American Mass Culture and its Dissemination in the World, which is essentially a course in the creation and dissemination of the global consumer culture invented and promulgated by US corporations."

I did not truly appreciate this until I left the United States. The parts of American culture which are not corporatized (swing dance, local cuisines which are not represented by a fast food chain, most American live theater, etc) are generally not exported, and Taiwanese are generally ignorant of them.

- Sara K.