Amid pressure from the Consumers' Foundation and some legislators that the government destroy US beef imported to Taiwan, the Department of Health (DOH) reiterated yesterday afternoon that beef already on store shelves in Taiwan is safe and does not need to be removed.
"Although we reinstated a ban on US beef after the confirmation of a second mad-cow case, the meat currently on the shelves is safe and there is no need to recall the beef," DOH Bureau of Food Safety director Chen Lu-hung (陳陸宏) said yesterday.
He was responding to criticism that the DOH is ignoring public health over the US beef issue.
The DOH's announcement came after reassurances from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) that US beef does not pose a threat to public health.
"We hope Taiwan will move swiftly to re-open the beef market after the AIT shares detailed information on the recent [bovine spongiform encephalopathy] BSE detection," AIT Director Douglas Paal said yesterday morning during a press conference at the American Cultural Center.
"I would also like to take this opportunity to guarantee to Taiwan customers that the US beef you have been eating and enjoying in great numbers has been, and continues to be, safe," he added.
The AIT held a press conference yesterday to dispel public fears about the safety of US beef.
According to Paal, who appeared at the Taipei Food Show earlier this month to promote US beef, the second confirmed case of mad-cow disease was discovered through a re-examination of an old sample from last year. The test result of this sample was not connected to the beef imported to Taiwan and therefore there is no threat to public health.
Lawmakers yesterday grilled the DOH for "fawning" on the US by insisting on keeping its beef on the market despite the so-called "mad cow threat."
"The DOH's decision to lift the ban on imports of US beef in mid-April and its refusal to recall the meat at stores now is based on political considerations," said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Joanna Lei (雷倩). "We demand the department end its `beef diplomacy' and stop trading people's lives for diplomatic space."
Responding to the accusations from opposition legislators and the Consumers' Foundation, the DOH yesterday reiterated that the beef was safe and its continued presence on the shelves had nothing to do with political considerations.
After a second case of BSE, or mad-cow disease, was confirmed in the US, the DOH reimposed a ban on US beef imports on Saturday.
The reinstatement of the ban generated concerns from consumer groups that the government should not have lifted the ban on US beef imports in April. They pointed to Japan and South Korea, which did not lift their respective bans on US beef.
Taiwan is the sixth-largest market for US beef, and US$325 million in beef was sold in 2003. Japan is the No.1 market, and was worth NT$1.4 billion in the same year. The first case of the disease in the US was confirmed on Dec. 24, 2003. Taiwan banned US beef imports a week later.
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