Scores of activists protested in front of the Department of Health yesterday to show their opposition to an anticipated full opening of Taiwan’s market to US beef.
The protesters urged the government to hold public hearings before making a final decision.
After learning from reports that the government is preparing to ease restrictions on US beef imports, activists from a number of civic groups said that the government should not sacrifice the public’s health for the sake of political and economic benefits.
The government currently only allows the import of boneless beef from cattle under 30 months of age, but may lift or ease the constraints under intense lobbying from the US government.
Likening opening the market to US beef exports to arms procurement, Green Party Taiwan Spokesman Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲) said that both involve politics and that the government should not put public health at risk for short-term gains, including the possibility of negotiating and signing a Taiwan-US free-trade agreement.
Hu Ya-mei (胡雅美), president of the Homemakers’ Union and Foundation, said that prion proteins, the agents that cause bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, are not easily killed by cooking or ultraviolet rays and can survive in any part of an infected cow, posing a hazard to human health.
The best way to stay safe, Hu said, is a full ban on US beef imports.
The groups demanded that the Department of Health hold public hearings before making a decision on whether to relax or tighten restrictions on US beef imports and urged that all beef and beef-related products should be labeled with the place of production and a risk warning.
Taiwan banned US beef in 2003 when a case of mad cow disease was diagnosed in Seattle.
The ban was lifted in 2005 to allow imports of US deboned beef from cattle aged under 30 months, but the government reimposed a complete ban two months later when a second BSE case was discovered in the US.
In 2006, the government agreed to allow beef imports once again, but limited imports to boneless beef from cattle younger than 30 months of age produced by certified slaughterhouses.
Over the past three years, beef imports from the US have increased annually and the US now supplies around 32 percent of Taiwan’s beef, with the rest coming mainly from New Zealand and Australia.