Thu, Dec 31, 2009 - Page 3 News List

Officials debate referendum on US beef

By Loa Iok-Sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Government officials, academics and representatives from civic groups debated at a public hearing yesterday whether a proposed referendum on lifting the ban on certain US beef products should be approved.

The proposal asks voters if they agree with the Department of Health (DOH) decision to allow imports of beef organs, ground beef and bone-in beef from the US, and whether the government should renegotiate the beef agreement with the US.

Officials from the DOH, the Council of Agriculture and the Ministry of Economic Affairs have repeatedly stressed the safety of US beef and said that a referendum was unnecessary. However, Consumer Foundation chairman Hsieh Tien-jen (謝天仁) questioned on whether the government is capable of or determined enough to protect the health of consumers.

“National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi [蘇起] said that the Taiwan-US beef agreement has a higher legal status than domestic laws, so we’re not sure whether the agreement has a higher status than the amended law,” Hsieh said. “So why not leave the issue to be decided by the people in a referendum?”

DOH Bureau of Food Safety director Lin Hsueh-jung (林雪蓉) said the decision to lift the ban was based on scientific facts so should not be voted on in a referendum.

“Besides, the referendum proposal asks whether the decision should be voided and whether the government should renegotiate,” Lin said. “It violates the Referendum Act [公民投票法], which stipulates that only one question can be asked in one referendum.”

Former deputy minister of the interior Lin Mei-chu (林美珠), meanwhile, urged government representatives to stop talking about the safety of US beef.

“It’s not our job to decide whether US beef is safe, and it has nothing to do with whether the referendum should be voted on,” Lin said. “Our job is to determine if the proposal meets all the requirements to be a valid referendum, and, if so, it should make it to the polling stations.”

Lin said that waiving the lifting of the ban and renegotiation are two sides of the same issue, “so the issue of whether the referendum asks two questions does not exist.”

After the public hearing, the Cabinet’s Referendum Review Committee said it would make the final decision on whether the referendum proposal is valid next week at the earliest.

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