Pig industry faces dilemma

Economy May 26, 2018 01:00

By THE NATION

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THAILAND’S food safety standard is under threat as the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is putting pressure on the Thai government to lift an import ban on US pork, forcing Thailand to choose between securing $4.2 billion worth of trade deals and the health of consumers.



Last week, The USTR office accepted the request from National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) to reconsider Thailand’s trade benefit under the US Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), a tariff privilege that give an a competitive advantage to over 1,000 of Thai products in US market.

The US pork council wants the Thai government to eliminate its restriction on US uncooked meat, allowing them to gain full access to the market. Jim Heimerl, president of NPPC cited unfair treatment as the reason behind the council’s petition.

“Thailand’s treatment of US pork provides a clear basis for removing or limiting its GSP benefits.” He said.

The US pork has been banned by Thailand due to the use of ractopamine, a feed addictive commonly used by US pork producers for muscle leanness and enhancing growth rate. Thai government claims that there is not enough evidence to prove the drug is safe for the consumers in the long term.

Dr Chaiyapoom Bunchasak, associate professor from Department of Animal Science Faculty of Agriculture at Kasetsart University, recently was quoted on Thaipost newspaper earlier this month, saying that the drug helps pigs to generate more protein and, therefore, rapidly enhances pig growth rates, helping the farmers to lower the cost of operation and maximising the productivity. 

Ractopamine is also approved by The Codex Alimentarius Commission, the internationally recognized food standard setter, at a limit amount.

Chaiyapoom added that Thailand has long held Zero Tolerance Policy on the use of beta-agonists (including Ractopamine). Moreover, the drug is still restricted or banned in 160 countries (such as members of the European Union, China and Russia).

The effect of Ractopamine residue in human is still unknown. However, the drug has been linked to several harmful impacts on farm animal such as agitation, dyspnea, cardiac rates, stress, disabilities and death.

It is also important for consumer to know that the drug effect can pose great dangers to consumers with history of heart disease and high blood pressure. 

Prayad Thirawong, lecturer at Kasetsart University and Animal Husbandry Expert, recently wrote an article on SiamRath, a Thai local newspaper, describing the US pig offal as ‘a ticking time bomb’ for other countries. He noted that the higher concentration of Ractopamine residue can be found in pig organs such as liver and intestine than the other parts. 

Prayad added that pig parts, especially those considered to be ‘unwanted’ in US market such as head, giblets and offal will be flooded into Thailand where food safety is the top priority.

On the impacts to local pig farmers, The US pressure is viewed by the people in the industry as a unilateral attempt to take over the local market with substandard products.

The fate of the Thai pig industry is in a dilemma. 

The Thai government has set up a working group to consider the risks from US pork and may take a year to make a decision.