Tue, Jan 24, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Ex-official says eased beef export guidelines are safe

By Jenny Chou  /  STAFF REPORTER

A former World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) official hired by the Canadian government said yesterday that changes made to the organization's beef export guidelines last May were guided by scientific evidence and did not indicate a less stringent attitude toward Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease.

Asked whether the US had a hand in changes to OIE guidelines, which have made beef exports less restrictive, the former president of the organization, Norman Willis, said: "The OIE is an independent body. Its decisions are based on scientific evidence provided by BSE experts and the recommendations they make for safe trade."

Willis is president of the Norm Willis Group, based in Ottawa, and was brought to Taiwan by the Canadian government.

He said that when BSE first started appearing in Britain, little was known about the disease so more precautions were taken.

"But BSE is a infectious disease not a contagious disease, therefore techniques used with contagious diseases are not applicable to BSE," he said.

He said that OIE guidelines for beef exports specifying that exports should be boneless and from cattle under 30 months of age were based on research evidence showing that cattle under 30 months were not infected with BSE, and that BSE was mainly transmitted through "specified risk materials" such as the skulls, brains, tonsils, eyes and spinal cords of cows.

Japanese research

Asked whether OIE guidelines should take into account findings of Japanese researchers that cattle as young as 21 months could be infected with BSE, Willis said, "These are not typical cases. The testing results are irregular and scientific experts from around the world don't know the true significance of these cases."

Commenting on Japanese findings, Hsiao Tung-ming (蕭東銘) deputy head of the health department's Food Safety Department said, "BSE has been found in cattle as young as six months in experimental research. So these findings are not especially significant."

Hsiao agreed though that with the removal of at-risk cow parts, there was a low risk of transmission.

On the subject of Canadian beef, which has been banned in Taiwan since 2003 when the origin of a BSE infected cow in Washington was traced back to Canada, Willis said increased surveillance measures had been implemented as had rules restricting the use of animal feed containing material from mammals.

Hsiao said that Taiwan has already accepted a risk assessment report from Canada regarding BSE cases and that after the Lunar New Year the health department would commission the National Health Research Institute to make a risk assessment based on the evidence provided.

Bird flu

The officials also spoke about fighting avian flu.

Willis said the main problem in defending against avian flu was separating wild water fowl -- which may be carrying the bird flu virus -- from domestic fowl, rather than surveillance.

The section chief of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine under the Council of Agriculture Chen Re-shang (陳瑞祥) agreed with this, but said it was also important to minimize smuggling and increase surveillance.

He said that surveillance was very high in Taiwan, with samples taken from more than 4,000 migratory birds last year, exceeding surveillance in Japan.

He said that one way of preventing contact between migratory birds and domestic poultry was to keep poultry indoors.

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