Thu, Jul 19, 2007 - Page 1 News List

DOH official downplays US pork scare

FOOD SAFETY The head of the Bureau of Food Sanitation said none of the pork products found to contain traces of a banned drug had entered the local market

By Shih Hsiu-chuan and Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTERS , WITH CNA

Health officials assured the public yesterday that US pork contaminated by a banned veterinary drug had not entered the market.

Bureau of Food Sanitation Director-General Cheng Hui-wen (鄭慧文) confirmed that two shipments of US pork imported by K&K Foods, weighing 1.3 tonnes and 23 tonnes respectively, were found to contain ractopamine residue last Wednesday while they were awaiting customs clearance.

The residue amounted to 0.15 mg/kg and 0.32 mg/kg respectively, he said.

A second test conducted on Monday confirmed the results and the Department of Health (DOH) immediately ordered the shipments be denied entry, Cheng said.

He dismissed People First Party (PFP) Legislator Lin Hui-kuan's (林惠官) accusation of a cover-up as "exaggerated."

"The test results only came in on Monday ... the legislator called me less than 24 hours later to confirm the results," Cheng said.

The pork shipments were only tested for ractopamine last week after domestic pork producers complained to the DOH that some tainted pork products might have reached the market.

Earlier yesterday, the PFP caucus blasted the department for"concealing" the test results and demanded the resignation of those officials responsible if they failed to explain what it called their "dereliction of duty."

Lin told a press conference that the health department had been pressured by the US not to reveal the problem.

"The American Institute in Taiwan [AIT] had expressed concern over the matter," he said, without elaborating.

Lin rejected the DOH's claim that the tainted pork hadn't reached the market, saying K&K Foods had sold some of the pork to a fast-food chain.

"It has been three months since poisonous pork was imported," he said, criticizing the US for exporting the viscera and other internal organs of pigs, which he said Americans don't like to eat, cheaply to Taiwan.

Cheng also denied that the AIT had pressured the health department to keep the results of the tests quiet.

"Their representative came to learn more about the situation," Cheng said. "They were unaware that the substance has yet to be regulated [by the DOH], and is considered a banned substance by the Council of Agriculture [COA]. They are working to communicate the fact to meat merchants in the US who want to sell their products to Taiwan."

Cheng said the council banned ractopamine last October.

"We will step up inspections both for domestically produced pork and imported pork as soon as possible," he said.

Imported pork found to contain ractopamine will be turned away at the port of entry while domestically produced pork will be destroyed and producers fined between NT$30,000 and NT$150,000, he said.

"Ractopamine is a legal food additive in Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and the US," he said.

Cheng said some meat importers had asked the COA to relax its restrictions to permit a low level of ractopamine residue in meat, but the council had not yet agreed.

Deputy Minister of Health Wang Hsiu-hung (王秀紅) said health officials would meet with the council soon to discuss setting an upper limit for ractopamine residue.

McDonald's Restaurants (Taiwan) Co yesterday assured consumers that its pork products were safe and said it would adopt stricter standards in examining its importers' supplies.

The company confirmed that K&K Foods was one of its suppliers but said the imports found to contain the banned substance had been sent back by K&K at customs and had not entered the market.

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