Mon, Dec 29, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Government to probe where Taiwan gets its beef

CONSUMER RIGHTS As hysteria grips the nation's beef-eaters, the government is to begin more closely examining how beef imports are registered and distributed

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Department of Health (DOH) starts a nationwide investigation into the origins of imported beef today as fears spread that consumers are unwittingly buying US beef.

Reacting to a Consumers' Foundation report that a customer at a Taipei department store found US beef among Australian meat packs, the DOH said it was expanding efforts to plug loopholes in the way beef imports are registered and distributed.

"Local health bureau officials will visit supermarkets, department stores and other beef outlets to check credentials proving their beef comes from approved countries," Chen Lu-hung (陳陸宏), director general of the department's Bureau of Food Sanitation, said.

After the US reported its first case of mad cow disease last week, the government here suspended imports of cosmetics, medical instruments, biological products and medicine that contain cow or sheep tissue from the US.

If any beef retailers are found to be lying about the origins of their beef, they will be charged with fraud, Chen said.

Consumers' Foundation secretary-general Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏) said yesterday the department would ask all beef retailers to mark the country of origin on beef packs.

Making the origin of beef products clear is important for the public to allow them to choose what they buy because "even experts find it very difficult to tell the importing countries of beef by examining the color of the meat," Cheng said.

If the department does not ask beef retailers to mark the origins of their meat, consumers' right to know what they are buying would be damaged, Cheng said.

But Chen said the DOH would not require all beef retailers to mark the origins of their beef, although factories producing dry beef are required to indicate on the packs where the beef comes from.

"Raw beef packs are not completely sealed products. Unlike dry beef packs, which may be transported from place to place, usually raw beef packs are sold only in the outlets they are distributed to," Chen said.

Chen also questioned the significance of the foundation's report of a customer finding US beef among Australian beef packs.

"According to my judgment, the US beef might simply be left in the Australian meat section by a customer who was too lazy to take the pack to its original shelf. It is unlikely the department store intended to cheat customers," Chen said.

Chen stressed that all American beef still on the shelves was absolutely safe and urged the public not to be unnecessarily scared about the safety of US beef.

Consumers seemed to agree that the department needed to ensure consumers' rights.

A 25-year-old housewife surnamed Chen said the DOH should ask all beef retailers to mark origins of their meat.

"If the department does not do so, consumers might be cheated. The department has a responsibility to let the public know where our beef packs come from," she said.

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