Sat, Nov 20, 2004 - Page 2 News List

DOH to crack down on mislabeled food products

MEATY PROBLEM In an attempt to curb tainted meat, health officials are cracking down on food sellers who falsely label their beef as being imported from Japan

By Wang Hsiao-wen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Products falsely labeled as quality Japanese beef are rife locally, and health officials yesterday alerted the public not to fall for the ruse and kicked off a crackdown campaign on restaurants, hotels, and supermarkets.

Taiwan imposed an import ban on Japanese beef ever since mad cow disease was discovered there four years ago. But an estimated 1,000 restaurants, hotels and supermarkets still sell beef labelled Matsusaka Beef (松阪牛肉) and Kobe Beef (神戶牛肉) -- two types of Japanese beef.

Following the 14th case of mad cow disease reported in Japan last month, the Department of Health vowed to step up regulatory measures to stop Japanese beef from entering the country.

Fearing that the illness may make inroads in Taiwan via smuggled prime beef, the department began making spot checks yesterday.

"If we find any beef imported from Japan, we will ask restaurateurs to remove the dish from their menu and empty their storage," said Hsieh Ting-hung (謝定宏), a senior specialist of the department's Bureau of Food Safety.

Japanese beef should not be available in the marketplace, health officials said. "We don't think food safety is a big issue here ... The problem is that the deceitful advertisements rip customers off," Hsieh said.

Last year, the DOH inspected 1,810 restaurants and found no beef imported from Japan. Matsusaka Beef and Kobe Beef are usually sold at an exorbitant price, NT$2,000 for 100g, according to the Chinese-language newspaper, the United Daily News.

If the restaurateurs or supermarket owners do not hold beef certificate, they will be fined between NT$30,000 to NT$150,000, according to Article 35 of the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法).

Also, those found to have had illegally imported beef from Japan will be fined between NT$60,000 to NT$1,500,000 under the Consumer Protection Law (消費者保護法).

Meanwhile, health officials are still mulling whether to lift the ban on US beef by the end of this year due to a new possible case of mad cow disease in the US reported on Thursday. It was the second case since the first turned up in Washington State 11 months ago.

"We are still waiting for a more confirmed result, which US Agriculture Department officials said would take four to seven days," Hsieh said.

The latest case came amid continuing talks between the US and Taiwan to ease Taiwan's ban on US beef. In March, the US Department of Agriculture urged the Department of Health to reopen the lucrative market worth US$2 billion a year. Taiwan, the sixth largest overseas customer of US beef, currently sent a panel of scientists to the US to verify food safety.

If there is any new case identified in the US, Taiwan will delay its timetable to resume US beef imports, health officials said.

"There is no way a BSE-infected product will enter the food chain here," health officials said.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), attacks an animal's nervous system. People who eat BSE-contaminated food can contract a rare disease that is almost always fatal -- variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Also see story:

New US case of mad cow disease feared

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