A modern, developed country setting a government food safety policy would typically begin by conducting a scientific health risk assessment. Afterwards, the responsible agencies would make a risk management policy decision based on the results of the assessment, in conjunction with some economic, social and political factors.
Mad cow disease is now believed to be caused by using feed supplements of recycled meat and bone meal processed from other cows.
When mad cow disease appeared in Britain around 1985, the British government didn't adopt any preventive measures after it announced that the disease couldn't be passed on to humans. This assumption was wrong, and in 1988 the British government took emergency measures prohibiting cow feed from containing the meat and bones of animals, prohibiting human consumption of cow parts that could carry the disease -- including the head, central nervous system, internal organs and bone marrow -- and prohibiting the slaughtering of cows over 30 months old.
The discovery that humans could be infected with mad cow disease nearly destroyed Britain's beef industry overnight. The severity of the economic damage shocked the entire world. Other countries immediately adopted similar emergency prevention measures, rejecting cows and cow products from Britain.
As a result of the whole world working together to solve the problem, cases of mad cow disease have dropped sharply around the world over the past decade. Cases of human infection have also dropped in the past five years.
In the past 10 years, since the first human cases were discovered to be linked with eating beef, fewer than 200 cases have been diagnosed around the world. Compared to other familiar infectious diseases like acute pneumonia, influenza and bronchitis, the scale of mad cow disease in humans is almost non-existent.
The beef that the US and Canada export to Taiwan is boneless meat of young cows under 30 months old. Young cows normally carry very few mad cow disease pathogens, and boneless meat carries even fewer. With the existing strict preventive measures used around the world, calculations show that the risk to Taiwanese posed by US and Canadian meat is infinitesimal.
Furthermore, research shows that human resistance to mad cow pathogens is increasing rapidly. The chances of a person over 30 contracting the disease due to eating beef is extremely low.
In other words, there is practically no chance of getting mad cow disease from eating imported US and Canadian boneless cow meat.
Dennis Hsieh is an investigator at the National Health Research Institutes.
Translated by Marc Langer