Thu, Jan 26, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Ban on US beef lifted, with some restrictions

CONTROVERSIAL DECISION Some wondered why the ban was lifted on the new Cabinet's first day of work, while others said Japan's example should suggest caution

By Jenny Chou  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH CNA

The Department of Health (DOH) announced yesterday that Taiwan will re-open its market for US beef imports conditionally, effective immediately.

On its official Web site, the DOH said that US beef and related produce can be re-introduced into Taiwan if such products are: beef from animals raised in the US and under 30 months of age, boneless beef without risky parts or substance attached, beef from slaughterhouses and processing factories that are approved by the US Department of Agriculture and beef with certificates issued by the US Department of Agriculture.

DOH officials faced many questions on their decision to lift the ban on the first day of work for the new Cabinet.

Hsiao Tung-ming (蕭東銘), deputy director of the DOH's Bureau of food Safety, said the timing of the announcement was coincidental.

"We are just doing things according to steps in administrative procedures. It just happens that we finished proceedings today," Hsiao said.

Taiwan first banned imports of US beef, live cattle and all related products in December 2003 after the discovery in Washington State of a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.

In April, Taiwan decided to resume imports of US beef, after completing a risk-assessment based on scientific evidence. However, US beef imports were once again terminated in June, following a second case of mad cow disease in the US.

Deputy Director of the DOH Wang Hsiu-hong (王秀紅) said that since then, the US had provided ample scientific evidence to convince experts in Taiwan that it was safe to lift the ban provided certain conditions are fulfilled.

These conditions include that the boneless beef be under 30 months of age, with so-called Specific Risk Materials (SRMs) -- parts of the cow that are at particular risk of infection -- removed. Internal organs and minced beef will also not be accepted.

Officials said that to ensure the safety of US beef there would be continuous communications with US health officials about their mad cow status as well as an emphasis on cross Ministry cooperation to ensure regulations had been met.

While DOH officials assured the public that the risk of contracting the human variant of mad cow disease were low, there were many dissenting voices.

Deputy Director of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital Chen Shun-sheng (陳順勝) said he did not agree with the lifting of the ban and skipped an expert panelist meeting on Jan. 11, as a sign of his objection against the lifting of the ban.

Chen also said he was surprised to hear about the announcement, since Hsiao had told him in a conversation earlier in the week that there would be "effective management" before US beef imports would be resumed, following news that conditions on US beef imports in Japan had not been met last week.

Professor at the National Health Research Institute Hsieh Hsien-tang (謝顯堂), also a panelist member, said that while the risk of contracting mad cow disease was very low, this assessment did not include the risks introduced through smuggling or if conditions aren't met on the US side, which was the case with Japan's recent beef imports.

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