Mon, Nov 13, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Feature: Draft report on US beef slams DOH

WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS According to a legislative study obtained by the `Taipei Times,' health officials arbitrarily lifted the ban on beef imports early this year

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

A butcher at a store in Taipei on Feb. 13 places new cuts of US beef in coolers after a ban on the meat was lifted.


In light of the controversy over the decision by health officials to allow US beef to re-enter the Taiwanese market in January, a legislative task force was established in May to review matter.

The committee is soon to conclude its investigation, with the draft report saying that local health officials had caved in to pressure from the US and committed a dereliction of duty in agreeing to the speedy re-opening of beef imports.

The draft report, however, has come under fire from Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers who said that only information unfavorable to health officials was considered by the committee and that the final report was "below the belt."

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.

An advisory committee was established in March 2004 under the Department of Health (DOH) to deal with the matter.

Despite the third case of mad cow in the US in March this year, Taiwan's market has been opened to US beef on a conditional basis since January. Imports were resumed last April, then suspended two months later when a second case of mad cow was reported in the US.

According to the legislature's draft report obtained by the Taipei Times, DOH officials arbitrarily lifted the ban without the consent of the Council of Agriculture (COA) and of the DOH's own advisory committee.

The draft report said that officials with COA and its Bureau of Animal and Plant Health had sent notification to DOH more than 10 times, outlining the department's disapproval of US requests for a resumption of beef imports, but its opinion was totally ignored.

As for the advisory committee, the draft report said that the decision to re-open the market to US beef products was made in a clandestine fashion without consensus among its members. Official records of proceedings were also written in haste without due attention to detail, the draft report said.

Chen Hsum-hseng (陳順勝), a professor of neurology at Chang Gung University, told the Taipei Times in a telephone interview that he thought this criticism was justified.

"I dropped out of the committee because what I said in the meeting was not correctly recorded. I didn't know the conclusion until I received the transcript of proceedings afterwards. I disagreed with the conclusion but had no way to complain about it," he said.

He said that he withdrew from the group when the BSE risk assessment study conducted by the National Health Research Institute (NHRI) was made public.

"We only got a chance to discuss the study after DOH officials had used it as a propaganda tool to convince people about the safety of US beef. They said that the function of the advisory committee was only to endorse the DOH's stance of re-opening the market to US beef," he said.

However, Steve Chen (陳校賢), a visiting professor at Chang Jung Christian University who has worked as a veterinarian in Canada for 30 years, demurred at the allegation of improper procedure in the advisory committee.

"It's a lie to say that permitting the importation of US beef had nothing to do with politics and trade concerns, but the permission was given mainly based on our scientific knowledge of the disease," Steve Chen said in a telephone interview.

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