Thu, Jan 19, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Legislators want oversight on beef imports decision

CLAIMING A STAKE Both a TSU lawmaker and her PFP counterparts insisted the Legislative Yuan has the final word if the Cabinet okays lifting the ban on US imports

By Jenny Chou  /  STAFF REPORTER

Concerned that the Department of Health (DOH) used "improper procedures" in concluding it was safe to lift the ban on US beef imports, legislators yesterday said the Cabinet's final decision would have to be approved by the Legislative Yuan.

"A majority vote of 123 against 87 was obtained at the Legislative Yuan on January 13 that the Executive Yuan should explain the decision-making process to related legislative committees, and that the final decision needs be approved by the Legislative Yuan," Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) said.

However, Cabinet Spokesman Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰) said a few days ago that there was no need for the Executive Yuan's decision to go through the legislature, Lai said.

The government first banned US beef imports in December 2003 after the discovery in Washington State of a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

Last April, the ban on US boneless beef from animals under 30 months of age was lifted but then on June 25 imports were suspended again because a second case of mad cow disease had been confirmed in the US earlier that month.

The US has been pushing ever since for the resumption of imports.

Following a risk assessment meeting by a BSE specialist team at the DOH, a consensus on resuming US beef imports was reached with other relevant agencies and a report was submitted to the Cabinet yesterday for approval.

According to a press release from the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI), risk assessment of BSE based on the theory of toxic poisoning, is the strictest that can be imposed and that the calculated risk of contracting BSE is actually 1 in 100 million, not 1 in 50,000.

Lai accused the health department of deciding that US beef was safe for consumption "behind everyone's back," in a low-key meeting which took place on Jan. 11 -- even though Minister of Health Hou Sheng-mou (侯勝茂) had promised last year that everything would be "clear" and "transparent."

The department had not commissioned NHRI to conduct an independent risk assessment on the dangers of contracting BSE from US beef, despite promising to do so, she said.

Both Hou and Bureau of Food Safety Deputy Director Hsiao Tung-ming (蕭東銘), however, said that Lai was mistaken because they had commissioned the institutes to do a risk assessment.

In response to accusations that the department had not been transparent in its decision-making process, Hsaio said, "All the relevant information is on the Web."

The People First Party (PFP) caucus also called on the administration yesterday to honor a resolution requiring legislative approval for lifting the ban on US beef imports.

PFP Legislator Liu Wen-hsiung (劉文雄) said his caucus leaders plan to lead caucus members to visit the department in the near future, requesting it honor the legislature's resolution.

PFP Legislator Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) also said it would only be fair for the US government to resume imports of pork from Taiwan if the administration lifts the ban on US beef imports. Additional reporting by Ko Shu-ling

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