The Consumers’ Foundation yesterday went to the Department of Health (DOH) to protest the government’s decision to allow imports of cow tongues and diaphragms from the US, while the DOH denied that politics was involved in opening the country to US beef and its policy backtrack in the past two days.
The foundation, which has been pushing for a referendum on the beef import issue, said that cow tongues, diaphragms and other parts should be considered internal organs and therefore prohibited from import.
On Monday, officials from the DOH, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Council of Agriculture (COA) told a press conference that tongues, penises, testes, tails, tendons and skirts (diaphragms) derived from cattle less than 30 months of age slaughtered on or after April 1 would be permitted to enter the country because they are not internal organs and therefore meet the requirements set by the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法).
The Act, passed on Jan. 5, prohibits the import of US ground beef, beef offal and other parts, such as the skull, eyes and intestines, contravening a bilateral protocol signed by Taiwan and the US in October last year.
On Tuesday, however, officials held another press conference and advised businesses to hold off on importing cow tongues, testes, tendons and skirts because of consumer concern that these parts may expose them to the risk of contracting bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.
“The attempt to push cow tongues and diaphragms into the country was the US government’s way of testing the waters to see how consumers would react,” said Foundation chairman Hsieh Tien-jen (謝天仁), who said politics was behind the decision.
“The US is pushing the boundaries on which parts can be imported to Taiwan. Eventually, the entire cow will be allowed with no limitations on the cattle’s age,” he said.
The foundation urged government officials to set clear prohibitive measures on imports of any kind of meat that may pose health risks to the public, rather than being indecisive and allowing imports while advising companies to refrain from importing the products.
In the past few days, the foundation’s criticism of the DOH and other government agencies has been joined by lawmakers, civic groups and academics alike, who disapprove of the government’s on-again, off-again stance.
In response, the DOH denied that politics was involved or that it has backtracked on its own policies by saying that it has maintained a consistent position, which is that cow tongues, diaphragms and testicles are not internal organs and are permitted to enter the country. However, in order to assuage consumers’ concerns about the safety of the beef parts, the DOH “advised” businesses to hold off on importing the beef parts until the issues can be resolved.
Meanwhile, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) also denied that the government had performed a U-turn on tongue imports.
In an interview with the CtiTV last night, Wu defended the Bureau of Foreign Trade (BOFT).
“The BOFT did not do anything wrong, neither did the DOH — [the government] did not sway back and forth. On the contrary, I thought [the DOH] did well to ensure the public’s health,” Wu said.
Wu said that the BOFT made the decision in accordance with the conclusions of a panel of experts on May 18 last year that cow tongues and the other 12 items were classified as offal and not internal organs.