Mon, Jan 17, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Officials unable to confirm amount of tainted beef eaten

By Shelley Huang and Vincent Y. Chao  /  Staff Reporters, with CNA

The Department of Health (DOH) yesterday said it could not confirm how much chemically enhanced US beef products had been consumed by the public, while the authorities said they had yet to trace the product back to its source.

On Friday, the department announced that between 1 and 2 parts per billion (ppb) of Paylean, an agent that promotes the production of lean meat in cattle, had been detected in three of 24 imported beef products sold in hypermarkets in northern parts of the country. All three products came from the US.

Health authorities have ordered stores to remove US beef products found to contain the additive.

This was the first time Paylean has been detected in US beef since Taiwan reopened its doors to some US beef products in 2007 after suspending imports amid concern about mad cow disease.

Paylean contains ractopamine, one of four animal feed additives along with salbutamol, terbutaline and clenbuterol, which are banned in Taiwan.

Amid reports that an estimated 1,500kg of the tainted beef had been purchased and consumed by the public, health officials said they were still unable to confirm how much had been consumed.

Costco said 160kg of filet and 300kg of sirloin were sold before the announcement by the department and that shoppers had since been returning beef products seeking refunds.

RT-Mart said it had imported 1,207kg of US beef products to be sold at 26 branch stores nationwide.

While it has been reported that about 90 percent of its beef products had been sold before the supermarket could take them off the shelves, it remained to be confirmed exactly how much was sold to consumers and how much had been returned.

Food and Drug Administration Director-General Kang Jaw-jou (康照洲) said the figures were difficult to calculate because some of the meat had been ground, mixed, packaged and sold with Paylean-free meat.

However, Kang said that as the levels of the banned chemical — between 0.64ppb and 2.84ppb — found in the products were low, they did not raise health concerns.

For beef containing between 1ppb and 2ppb of ractopamine, a person weighing 60kg would have to consume a minimum of 30kg per day before exceeding safety limits, the department said.

Meanwhile, lawmakers said they would press for tighter inspection measures on US beef.

“Taiwan has a zero-tolerance policy on the agents and if the US wants ... Taiwan to buy US beef, it should follow our regulations,” Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Yang Li-huan (楊麗環) said.

Lawmakers from both parties agreed the matter stemmed from an oversight by the health authorities that are tasked with monitoring and inspecting US beef.

KMT Legislator Daniel Hwang (黃義交) said he would not rule out enacting stricter regulatory measures on incoming shipments of US beef into law, adding that there appeared to be “holes” in the inspection process.

All US beef imports are supposed to go through a rigorous “three controls, five certifications” process implemented after Taiwan further opened its market to US beef parts more susceptible to mad cow disease in 2009.

At the time, the Presidential Office said the process, which involves setting controls at the source, checking for detailed product information and frequent food safety tests, would be effective in keeping hazardous parts out of the country.

These checks “obviously failed,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Wang Sing-nan (王幸男) said, adding that he would request that government agencies step up the frequency of spot checks to at least half of all incoming US beef shipments.

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