The government has decided to conditionally lift a ban on US beef imports starting April 16, the Cabinet-level Department of Health (DOH) said on its Web site yesterday.
The health authorities will lift the ban on US beef on four conditions, it said, ending the suspension that was imposed at the end of 2003 after the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in the country.
According to the department, beef come from cows that are born, fed and butchered in the US and under 30 months old will be allowed to enter Taiwan.
The three remaining conditions for qualified beef are: it must not include bones and sections that are likely to contain diseased cells such as brains and spinal marrow, it should be from slaughter and packing houses that are registered with the DOH and approved by US Department of Agriculture, and it must be certified by the US Department of Agriculture.
The Web site announcement said that officials and experts from the DOH as well as those from the Council of Agriculture held three meetings to discuss the issue after receiving an application from the US asking for beef import resumption in March last year. Officials concluded that US beef products pose no threat to food safety.
The US Department of Agriculture inspected 284,257 cattle between June last year to March 18 this year, and none of the samples tested positive for mad cow disease, the DOH's Web site said.
Local supermarket operators yesterday welcomed the news, saying they are preparing to put US beef products back on their shelves.
"We are ready and hope to be the first supermarket to provide fresh US beef to consumers soon," said Liu You-chin (劉友清), associate manager for marketing and planning of Matsusei (松青超市), the nation's second-largest supermarket chain.
Before the ban, US beef enjoyed large market share in Taiwan and was the first choice of many consumers, Liu said. As a result, half of all Matsusei's beef stocks were US beef, while the remainder was from Australia, New Zealand and other countries, he said.
Of all the beef sold in Taiwan, US beef makes up the third largest market, after Australia and New Zealand. According to statistics from the Council of Agriculture, Taiwan imported US$36.39 million worth of beef from the US in 2002, or 21.72 percent of total beef imports.
But after the ban was put in place, local meat importers switched to New Zealand and Australian beef, which accounted for 51.84 percent and 44.93 percent, respectively, of total beef imports last year, according to council statistics.
To ease concern among consumers, Liu said Matsusei will enforce a strict examination procedure as it does for all its meat products.
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"Judging the time needed for the application, order and shipping, the first batch of US beef should arrive in May as the earliest," Hsu said.
US beef makes up 70 percent of beef products sold in RT-Mart outlets, and RT-Mart plans to keep that ratio, Hsu said.
Meanwhile, the hypermarket will ensure supplies of New Zealand and Australian beef as the products have received high praise from consumers, Hsu added.