The Central Election Commission (CEC) yesterday held a hearing on a referendum proposal to ban imports of US pork treated with the controversial feed additive ractopamine.
Submitted on Sept. 23 by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus whip Lin Wei-chou (林為洲), the referendum question reads: “Do you agree that the government should impose a complete ban on the importation of meat, offal and related products from pigs fed leanness-enhancing agents, including ractopamine and other beta-agonists?”
The proposal came after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Aug. 28 announced that, starting on Jan. 1, Taiwan would ease restrictions on imports of US pork containing the leanness-enhancing drug, as well as beef from cattle aged 30 months or older.
Photo: Tu Chien-jung, Taipei Times
Most experts participating in the hearing said that Lin’s proposal met the qualifications of a national referendum, the commission said.
Some matters are explicitly listed in the Referendum Act (公民投票法) as items that should not be decided by referendums, such as the appointment of government officials, taxes, budgets and issues related to constitutional reform, Lin said.
If the commission blocks proposals on matters outside these areas, it undermines the spirit of the act, which is to allow the public to express opinions on major policies and laws, he said.
Although some have questioned whether Tsai’s announcement on US meat imports constitutes “an established policy,” subsequent statements by Tsai and government agencies have shown that the announcement is no different from an official policy, lawyer Yeh Ching-yuan (葉慶元) said.
Based on precedent, Lin’s proposal — which concerns food safety and imports — should be accepted, as the commission has previously allowed referendums opposing imports of US beef and food from areas near major sources of radiation, Yeh said.
Although some have raised concerns about the objectivity in the language of the referendum — which includes phrases such as “the government’s black-box decision,” “to please certain countries” and “the bargaining chip for the exchange of interests” — these are statements of fact, he said.
The commission has previously accepted proposals that used phrases such as “a hairpin-turn decision baffling the public” or “throwing people’s hard-earned money into the sea,” he said, adding that the same standards should be applied here.
Tsai’s announcement has already become national policy, Fu Jen Catholic University law professor Wu Chi-kwang (吳志光) said, citing subsequent constitutional interpretations, the Executive Yuan’s attitude and the difficulty the KMT has faced in attempting to oppose the plan.
His only concern is that some of the language in Lin’s proposal could have been more neutral, but the meaning is clear, causing no ambiguities for interpretation, Wu said.
National Chengchi University law professor Liu Tzong-der (劉宗德) said that Lin’s proposal qualifies as a national referendum, while National Taiwan University of Science and Technology assistant professor Chen Yan-jen (陳衍任) said that it would be better if some of the more negative words in the proposal were modified.
However, Chen said that although the proposal contains some generic terms, such as “ractopamine and other beta-agonists” or “related products,” they are not confusing when put into context.
Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare Hsueh Jui-yuan (薛瑞元) said that whether Tsai’s announcement constitutes as policy for the proposed referendum to be held should be determined by the commission.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare believes that revisions should be made to the question raised in the referendum, because Tsai’s announcement would lift only the import ban on pork containing ractopamine, with any other type of leanness-enhancing agents remaining banned, he said.
The proposal also said that Taiwanese consume more pork than beef every year, but Taiwan’s annual consumption of US beef is 3kg per person, compared with 0.49kg of US pork per person, he said.
Lin rebutted Hsueh’s remarks, saying that as pork containing ractopamine would be cheaper, the annual consumption would rise after it enters the local market.
After Japan allowed imports of pork containing ractopamine 15 years ago, the treated pork eventually accounted for more than 50 percent of its total imported pork, Lin said.
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