FoodNavigator-Asia reported Tuesday that Taiwan’s Department of Health (DOH) had found ractopamine in two Australian beef samples and two New Zealand samples. It also said zilpaterol was found in an Australian sample.
Beta-agonists such as ractopamine and zilpaterol – used to stimulate weight gain and increase leanness in cattle – are not registered for use in cattle in Australia and New Zealand or Taiwan.
The Australian Department of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (DAFF) issued a statement on March 14 that said Taiwan has not confirmed the country of origin.
“If Taiwan confirms a detection of banned residues in Australian beef, the Australian Government would take this issue very seriously and undertake a thorough trace-back investigation,” the department said.
However Australia has received no formal notification from Taiwan about these reported detections, it said.
Dan Coup, trade and economic manager at New Zealand’s Meat Industry Association, told FoodNavigator-Asia they too had not received any official notification.
Mistaken identity? Cross-contamination?
Coup said that it seemed highly likely that Taiwan is “dealing with a case of mistaken identity or cross-contamination.”
“If samples were simply collected from markets, there is a significant possibility of product mislabelling, mixing (for instance in minced beef) or cross-contamination between meat from different sources in cutting or preparation,” he said.
DAFF noted that with imported products, some testing happens at the point of sale rather than the border and “this makes determining the country of origin difficult.”
DAFF said the Australian National Residue Survey routinely tests for residues of Ractopamine, zilpaterol and other beta-agonists and “since 2003, over 300 beef samples have been tested each year for ractopamine and its conjugates, and there have been no detections in cattle to date.”
It added no positive detections of zilpaterol have been found either.
New Zealand’s testing systems have not shown any residues either, Coup added.
Taiwan's Cabinet however has announced that it will set up an "inter-ministerial task force to deal with the latest food scare."
Taiwan's premier, Sean Chen said in a Cabinet meeting on March 15 that government needs to comprehensively examine every segment of the country's food supply chain and strictly implement an inspection system.
Rachelle Williams, the ‘Green Food Safety Coach’ at AnYi an Australian food safety service company, told FoodNavigator-Asia that this incident will not damage the two industries in the long-run.
“I do not believe that a small incident such as this will have a long term detrimental effect on the Australian and New Zealand reputation,” Williams said.
However, this incident could trigger industry moves to re-educate Australian and New Zealand growers and producers on the use of such chemicals, particularly if country of origin is confirmed.
It could also lead to possible testing at slaughterhouses, further testing by importing countries and even a possible review of the current MRLs (maximum residue limits) by Food Standards Australia New Zealand.