Just when Taiwanese society is questioning the whereabouts of more than 1,000 tonnes of US pork that has already been imported this year, a batch of pork chops, which carried an outside label of “Product of Taiwan” and an inside label showing that they had been produced in the US originally, are found to have been consumed by the national army.
The batch of US-imported pork in question did not contain ractopamine. The final stage of its processing was completed in Taiwan, and the inside and outside labeling were in compliance with the regulations. Still, the incident contradicts the Ministry of National Defense’s previous declaration that “all pork supplied to the national army is sourced under the principle that domestic pork should be used, and domestic food should be prioritized.” The government’s integrity is at stake, and the public’s perception is not good. The government should not underestimate the ramifications of the issue. It should come up with a complete set of measures and offer an honest explanation to the public. It should do away with empty talk and memes.
On 28th August, four referendums will be held. Not only will they pose a major test to Tsai Ing-wen’s administration, but it will also be a vote of confidence in Premier Su Tseng-chang. The referendums will determine whether he can stay in the job. Two of the four referendums will be particularly tricky. One is about a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project near an algal reef off Taoyuan, and the other is about the import of ractopamine-laden pork.
At issue in the algal reef referendum is natural ecological protection, the government’s overall energy policy, and the linkage and balance between coal and carbon reduction and electricity generation. Furthermore, a large proportion of the signatories of the referendum are environmental protection groups and young students that supported the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the past. If the referendum results in a confrontation, not only will it have consequences for the related consequential policies in the future, but it will also impact future votes. The ramifications will be far-reaching.
Situation defused by outward relocation of LPG terminal
As for the import of ractopamine-laden pork from the US, a succession of US administrations has made such a demand to the Taiwanese government. President Tsai’s decision was an act of reciprocation for the Trump administration’s open and vigorous support for Taiwan and opposition to China. If the result of the referendum comes as a slap in her face, it will go down in history as an embarrassment to the DPP and the public’s punishment for its disregard for food safety, with the US also questioning the leadership and authority of the Taipei authorities. Thus, the Tsai government will be hit on both cheeks. To answer to the Taiwanese public and the US, a cabinet reshuffle will be inevitable. Such a reshuffle, conducted through force of circumstance, will not only be humiliating but also present uncertainties to the final stretch of President Tsai’s presidency and the political situation.
As for the referendum against a liquefied natural gas (LNG) project near an algal reef off Taoyuan, the legal threshold was crossed by a large margin at the last stage of the petition. That surprised even the environmental groups that had called for the referendum. The Tsai government, which had previously misjudged the situation and underestimated the opposition, immediately changed its strategy. It repeatedly expressed its willingness to communicate with environmental groups, saying that the Third LPG Receiving Terminal would be linked with the issue of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant. It also proposed to relocate the terminal outwards to minimize its impact on the algal reef as a compromise. Furthermore, it engaged in private interactions with the Green Camp and environmental protection groups that share the same revolutionary sentiments with it in an attempt to sway the stance of those originally opposed to the terminal.
Since the outward relocation of the terminal, as confirmed by some scholars and experts, will reduce its impact on algal reef ecology, and since the cost of the project, as announced by the government, will be as high as $15 billion (which shows the sincerity of the government), many environmentalists believe that the objectives of the referendum have been achieved, i.e., teaching the government a lesson and effecting change to a policy. If, however, the referendum is approved, that will actually delay the timetable for carbon reduction, air pollution mitigation and energy transformation. They argue that it is better to “get out while the getting is good”. The danger presented by the referendum has been defused, and the likelihood of its passage is decreasing.
The government’s key strategic battleground will then be the referendum against ractopamine-laden pork. It will try to defeat an arrogant Kuomintang, the leader of the campaign. The news that American pork is imported into Taiwan, processed here, put inside packaging carrying the label of “Product of Taiwan” and catered to the national army will lend credence to a theory put forward by those against ractopamine-laden pork: that, despite the government’s claim that consumers can choose whether to consume the product, it is difficult for consumers to identify ractopamine-laden pork because the government refuses to make it a legal requirement to indicate whether a meat product contains ractopamine. As the public refuses to consume American pork altogether, processed products will surely become the biggest loophole. It is conceivable that the coalition against ractopamine-laden pork, which has not attracted much publicity for some time, will take advantage of this and launch a wave of offensives.
No perfect solution
However, the government must make a conscientious and honest response. Explanations like “the pork consumed by the national army did not contain Ractopamine”, that the inside and outside labeling by the company involved was legally acceptable, that the Ministry of National Defense’s previous proclamation that “the national army consumes domestic pork as a principle and prioritizes domestic food” was just a “principle” and “priority” (meaning that foreign food was not absolutely avoided) will not work, for they will only serve to show the government is by no means committed to its promises. Furthermore, if the government dares to renege on its promise to the national army (who are on the frontline of the defense of our homes) or is unable to guarantee the source of food for our military officers and soldiers, how can the public trust any promise made by the government in the future? How can the referendum not become an outlet for the anger of the people? Wouldn’t this sentiment spread from the referendum against ractopamine-laden pork to the other referendums?
The import of ractopamine-laden pork was a political decision. Given the difficulty in resisting the pressure from the US, it was only a matter of time when ractopamine-laden pork would enter Taiwan’s market. The majority of Taiwanese people stay away from it, which is the real public opinion. It is hard for the government to strike a delicate balance, and there is not a perfect solution. However, exactly for this reason, only with honesty can the government win the understanding of the people, as they find glib and cunning talk the most repellent. Recently, the government has met with serious doubts over a string of social incidents. The people concerned did not face the problems squarely as soon as possible but tried to delude the public with lies and empty talk. The political storm kept growing as a result. This mistake must not be repeated in the handling of the national army’s procurement of US pork.
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