Sun, Dec 28, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Stricter beef import measures proposed

FOOD SCARE Most big department stores in Taipei are not saying where their meat comes from, the Consumers Foundation warned after conducting some spot checks


Relevant government agencies should demand that beef importers produce official country of origin certificates due to concern over mad cow disease, the Consumers Foundation said yesterday.

Beef retailers or supermarket operators should also be required to display country of origin certificates on their beef shelves, the non-profit foundation said.

The foundation made the call after conducting spot checks on supermarket shelves in 10 big department stores in metropolitan Taipei on Thursday and Friday amid concern about beef safety in the wake of the announcement of the first case of mad cow disease in the US.

The foundation said only Tayeh Takashimaya Department Store has clearly displayed country of origin certificates where it sells beef products.

The remaining stores have either not displayed the origin certificates or have offered confusing information, the foundation said. For instance, a supermarket displayed a "beef imported from Australia" signboard near a shelf even though the labels on the packages indicated that the products were from the US.

Nearly all supermarkets surveyed displayed posters claiming that their beef came from Australia or New Zealand, but none of them have produced country of origin certificates or copies of the documents, the foundation said.

Department of Health officials said they will intensify their spot checks of markets. Supermarket operators or retailers who offer confusing or false information to mislead consumers will be penalized in accordance with existing food regulations, the officials said.

The Consumers Foundation advised shoppers to ascertain product origin and check relevant certificates whenever they purchase beef at supermarkets or other retail shops. The foundation said consumers should for the time being avoid eating beef offal.

It also urged food hygiene authorities to step up inspections of markets and trace distribution networks.

Health authorities should also inspect dairy products and cosmetics to determine whether they contain contaminated substances, the foundation said, adding that the government should establish an imported meat certification system.

More importantly, the foundation said, the government should make every possible effort to prevent beef smuggling, particularly cattle offal from mainland China.

Meanwhile, the Council of Agriculture said it is closely watching developments following the announcement of the US mad cow disease case. The council said that by yesterday the world organization for animal health, known by the acronym OIE, had not yet declared the US a mad cow disease-affected area.

If this were to happen, the US would have to suspend exports of beef and related products for seven years.

Like several other countries, Taiwan announced a temporary ban on beef imports from the US immediately after the announcement that an infected cow had been found on a farm in Washington State on Wednesday.

According to OIE regulations, the council said, member countries can determine the scope and duration of the import ban in terms of the contamination risks of different products after a specific country is declared to be infected by mad cow disease.

The US is Taiwan's third-largest beef supplier, after Australia and New Zealand.

Last year Taiwan imported more than 35,000 tonnes of beef and related products from Australia, 15,400 tonnes from New Zealand and 13,900 tonnes from the US.

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