TAIPEI - Furious Taiwanese pork farmers pelted police with rotten eggs and animal faeces Thursday as anger over policies on US meat imports sparked a mass protest. Thousands of protesters gathered in downtown Taipei to voice fears that President Ma Ying-jeou’s government will lift a ban on US pork treated with ractopamine, a controversial additive used to promote lean meat. “Food safety should be given top priority. Ma must step down,” said Pan Lian-chou, spokesman for the island’s swine producer’s association, which organised the protest.

Police declined to estimate the size of the protest but but organisers put the number at 10,000.

After gathering peacefully outside parliament, the demonstrators marched to the Council of Agriculture where dozens of them vented their anger at riot police deployed outside the government complex.

They threw rotten eggs and animal faeces at police, pulled down barbed wire erected to cordon them off, and pushed against the line of officers. Despite some scuffling, no one was arrested.

Early this week the government announced a plan to lift a ban on ractopamine-treated US beef. But a government guarantee to keep a ban on US pork containing the additive failed to convince the pig farmers.

And there are fears that lifting the ban on ractopamine could spark widespread health concerns and undermine the meat industry.

“We don’t trust the government,” said Kuo Yung-chuan, 54, a farmer from north Taiwan’s Taoyuan county who brought eight piglets with him.

“First it’s beef and next it’ll be pork. Once that happens, Taiwan’s pig raising sector will be dealt a deadly blow.”

There are about 10,000 pig farms on the island, raising 6.35 million pigs, according to the Swine Association.

Observers say Ma’s plan to lift the controversial ban is aimed to facilitate stalled trade talks with the United States, a key trading partner and arms supplier of the politically isolated island.