TAIPEI: Taiwan said on Tuesday it plans to lift a ban on most US beef containing a controversial growth drug in an apparent bid to facilitate trade talks with Washington, triggering a protest from opponents.
The plan, pending parliament's approval, will allow import of beef treated with ractopamine, a feed additive used to promote leanness in animals raised for meat, a cabinet statement said.
However, internal organs from cattle containing ractopamine will still be banned, as will ractopamine-treated pork products, the cabinet said.
The decision appeared to have backfired with some members of the public, as scores of protesters rallied early Tuesday outside the presidential office in downtown Taipei to demand the government back down.
The island's pig farmers have been vocal opponents of lifting the ban, vowing to stage a mass protest on Thursday despite the decision.
The move came after a top US trade official put off a scheduled visit to Taiwan as local health authorities intensified checks on US beef imports containing the growth drug banned in Taiwan.
Washington has recently urged Taipei to ease restrictions on US beef, while some local officials have said that stalled free trade talks between the two sides hinge on the issue.
"Since the US has repeatedly stressed that the beef issue is linked to trade talks, it will affect Taiwan-US ties if the issue remains unsolved," vice economics minister Lin Sheng-chung said according to the United Daily News.
Last year, Taiwan pulled from the market US meat with ractopamine, which is also banned in China and and European Union but allowed in countries such as the US, Canada and Brazil.
The American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy in Taipei in the absence of formal relations, has defended the safety of US beef.
Countries that banned ractopamine were "unable to document any legitimate food safety risk and used non-scientific reasons to justify their bans," it said in a statement last week.
Taiwan banned all US beef imports in December 2003 over concerns about mad cow disease. In 2006, Taipei relaxed the rules to permit imports of boneless beef.