Thousands of Taiwanese farmers staged a raucous protest Thursday against a government plan to allow the import of U.S. beef containing a growth drug, challenging the island's president to "say no" to Washington.

The protest outside Taiwan's ornate legislative building came as newly re-elected President Ma Ying-jeou seeks to strengthen ties with the U.S. by resolving the long-standing beef dispute, reports the Associated Press. The beef issue has stalled trade talks crucial to keeping up the island's competitive edge in global trade.

The Cabinet announced this week it plans to lift a ban on U.S. beef containing minimal traces of ractopamine, a feed additive for meat leaning. The government sought to appease opponents by promising to ensure that vendors properly label their meat products. The plan needs legislative approval.

Hog farmers fear that lifting the ban could spark widespread health concerns that would affect consumption of other meat products, undermining their livelihoods. Washington maintains that ractopamine is a safe additive, legalized in more than 100 countries. Notable exceptions are the European Union and China.

Protesters later marched to the Agriculture Council — Taiwan's Ministry of Agriculture — and pelted police with pig excrement and rotten eggs. Shield-wielding officers prevented them from entering the building after they broke through an outer security barrier.

Source: AP