NCKU assessment finds ractopamine risk ‘acceptable’ for most people

Taipei,  A statistical study by Taiwanese researchers has concluded that eating some meats containing a potentially harmful veterinary drug posed a risk “within an acceptable range” for ordinary people, but cancer or heart disease risks were not assessed.

The study was leaked to provide backing for the Taiwan government’s planned relaxation of imports of American pork containing the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine to pave the way for closer trade ties with the United States.

The move was controversial because ractopamine is banned for use in Taiwan, and pork imports containing the drug have long been opposed because of potential safety issues.

According to a risk assessment conducted by National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), the risks of eating beef or pork containing ractopamine, a leanness-enhancing veterinary drug, were found to be acceptable based on maximum residue level (MRL) standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

The commission under the United Nations, responsible for implementing international food standards, set a standard in 2012 for MRL for ractopamine of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for pork and beef meat, 40 ppb in liver and 90 ppb in kidneys.

Using a statistical “Hazard Index” tool to do the assessment, the NCKU team said the hazard index was below 1 for non-cancer risk from eating beef, pork, and internal organs with ractopamine levels meeting the Codex standard, meaning it was acceptable.

The Hazard Index represents the ratio of the potential exposure to a substance, in this case the ractopamine contained in the meat consumed, and the level at which no adverse effects are reported, in this case the Codex MRL standards.

The NCKU calculations for consumption were based on data available in the National Food Consumption Database, which gives consumption figures for people in Taiwan by age and gender.

The report acknowledged that there was not enough scientific data to prove whether eating beef or pork with ractopamine could cause cancer or heart disease in humans. Therefore, it only ran simulations for non-cancer risk.

Controversy has also surrounded the Codex standards as an indicator of how much ractopamine residue in meat could be considered not to have adverse effects.

The standards were adopted based on a 69-67 vote by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in July 2012, with the unusually narrow margin reflecting the lack of a scientific consensus.

The European Food Safety Authority published a report in 2009 that criticized the data and methodology used by Codex to calculate the acceptable daily intake for ractopamine on which the MRLs were based, according to a report in Food Safety News in July 2012 on the vote.

Where the risk assessment did find possible risk was for women who have just had a baby and follow the local tradition of nursing themselves back to health by eating animals’ internal organs, especially kidneys and livers.

It said that if a woman eats more than 260 grams of pork kidneys and 360 grams of pork livers containing ractopmaine per day, it will increase the health risk to a Hazard Index above 1, indicating a relatively higher risk.

The NCKU report, dated February 2019, was one of two assessments commissioned by the Agriculture and Food Agency under the Cabinet-level Council of Agriculture (COA) and were sent to lawmakers on Saturday for their reference.

The other one was conducted by National Taiwan University in 2018, and assessed the risk for people of contracting mad cow disease by eating U.S. beef with ractopamine.

As part of its move to open Taiwan to U.S. meat products, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government also announced it would allow beef from cattle aged 30 months or older, which had been barred because of mad cow disease fears.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT) called on the DPP administration under President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to apologize to Taiwan’s people for its “unilateral decision” to open to U.S. meat products given the government’s lack of communication prior to that decision.

The DPP was extremely vocal during the presidency of the KMT’s Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in opposing meat products containing ractopamine but has now made a major about-face in its policy, KMT Culture and Communications Committee chairwoman Wang Yu-min (王育敏) said at a press event.

She said the DPP should not have made the decision without first gaining approval of Taiwan’s Legislature.

The DPP government is planning to put the changes simply by revising administrative regulations set by the COA and Ministry of Health and Welfare, and make the revisions public by mid-September before they take effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

Speaking at the same press event, former COA chief Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) said studies have shown that higher ractopamine residue levels are found in internal organs such as the lungs, kidneys and livers, which pose higher health risks to Taiwanese because they eat large quantities of internal organs.

Chen also warned that the government’s decision to open its doors to U.S. pork containing ractopamine could mean it will further open to such pork from Canada, New Zealand or Australia, which would bring further competition to Taiwan’s hog farmers.

 

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel

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