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Taiwan's DPP legislative caucus suspends 3 for ractopamine vote abstentions

From left to right: Lin Shu-fen, Chiang Yung-chang and Liu Chien-kuo.

From left to right: Lin Shu-fen, Chiang Yung-chang and Liu Chien-kuo. (CNA photo)

The legislative caucus of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Wednesday (Dec. 30) voted to fine and suspend three lawmakers who defied the party last week by abstaining on a series of votes.

The votes were mainly in regard to the lifting of restrictions on imports of pork containing the controversial animal feed additive ractopamine.

DPP legislators Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬), Chiang Yung-chang (江永昌) and Liu Chien-kuo (劉建國) were fined NT$30,000 (US$1,067.43) each and suspended from running for committee membership or party leadership positions for a period of three years as a result of their breach of party discipline during the Dec. 24 voting, DPP legislative caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) told reporters.

The lawmakers have been given three days to appeal the decision, he added.

Following the announcement, Lin said she "respected" the punishment, while Chiang said he "accepted" it. Liu said a week earlier that he would accept the repercussions of his abstentions "with equanimity."

The issue stems from a series of votes the Legislature held on Dec. 24 in which it approved nine directives related to President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) Aug. 28 announcement that Taiwan will open its doors to imports of pork containing "acceptable levels" of ractopamine, a leanness-enhancing feed additive, as well as to U.S. beef from cattle aged over 30 months.

The policy, which will take effect on Jan. 1, is widely viewed as an effort by the government to satisfy U.S. prerequisites for any negotiations on a bilateral trade deal.

However, it has caused discomfiture among some in the DPP, which strongly opposed even traces of ractopamine residue in pork during the previous administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) from 2008-2016.

Of the three lawmakers, Lin has been the sharpest critic of the policy. On the day it was announced, she complained that both major U.S. political parties "want (Taiwanese people) to eat ractopamine" and that both of Taiwan's major parties dropped their opposition to the additive once they came to power.

In the end, it is "the farming sector, the environment, labor rights, and food safety" that will suffer from the concessions, she said.

Liu, who represents a district in pork-producing Yunlin County, said for his part that he remains concerned about the policy's impact on local pork farmers and food safety.

Chiang, meanwhile, has said he believes that ractopamine is safe and that removing the restrictions will benefit Taiwan's ties with the U.S., but also that the government needs to spend more time communicating the policy and building public support.

"We are not a big market like the European Union or China, which can simply ignore the U.S. Taiwan is small, that is just the global reality," Chiang said, adding that he believes people will eventually come around to the policy.