Tue, Oct 27, 2009 - Page 1 News List

US beef deal angers lawmakers

OFFAL ANGRY The Consumers’ Foundation secretary-general said that it would not rule out calling a boycott of US beef, and if that didn’t work, a boycott of all US imports

By Ko Shu-ling, Shih Hsiu-chuan, and Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Department of Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang answers questions at the legislature in Taipei yesterday. Lawmakers asked about the safety of lifting a partial ban on US beef products.

PHOTO: CHANG CHIA-MING, TAIPEI TIMES

The government’s decision to relax restrictions on imports of US beef came under fire yesterday, with Department of Health (DOH) Minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) facing a particularly fierce barrage in the legislature.

Legislators from across party lines and consumer groups lined up to blast the government and threatened boycotts over last week’s announcement, while Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) announced the formation of a trade association that would boycott certain US beef products.

Executive Yuan Spokesman Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) said the central government would not prohibit local governments from boycotting US beef and beef products.

“[The actions taken by Taipei City Government] to ensure the public’s health were understandable. We, too, always bear public health in mind. The DOH will implement the strictest inspections of US beef imports to make sure they will not harm health,” Su said.

In response to the concerns over lifting the ban on brains, eyes, skull and spinal cord from cattle less than 30 months of age, Su said the highest standards would be applied to ensure safety, adding that the government would adopt inspection procedures that would not violate the agreement with Washington.

“We believe that the international community will understand,” Su said.

Su said the DOH would take necessary measures to remind consumers of the potential risks of US beef and beef products and require importers to specify the place of origin on packages.

Speaking at a meeting at the legislature’s Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee to brief lawmakers on the talks that led to the lifting of restrictions on US beef, Yaung said he was disappointed that Taiwan was not able to secure a deal to open its market only to bone-in beef from cattle younger than 30 months.

“I am not happy with the result, but it is acceptable,” Yaung said.

The ban will be lifted to allow the entry of US bone-in beef, ground beef, some offal and processed beef from cattle younger than 30 months that have not been contaminated with “specific risk materials” beginning on Nov. 10. Washington had wanted Taiwan to open its market to all US beef products, he said.

The two sides managed to reach an initial consensus on the issue in June, agreeing that further talks should be held based on a South Korean formula, Yaung said.

The DOH announced on Friday that Taiwan would expand market access for US beef after officials of the two countries agreed the previous day in Washington to lift a partial ban on such imports.

“All negotiations involve concessions,” he said.

KMT Legislator Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) said that the health minister should step down to take political responsibility for the new market-opening measures.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英) said the Taiwanese negotiators, led by DOH Vice Minister Hsiao Mei-ling (蕭美玲), fought a losing battle, adding that when Taiwan agreed in 2006 to open its doors to US boneless beef, it attached the condition that if a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, occurred in the US, Taiwan could immediately halt imports.

“This time we have allowed bone-in beef and organs and we cannot reimpose the ban unless the World Organization for Animal Health [OIE] decides the US is an infected area. This is absurd and a humiliation to the nation,” Huang said.

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