The Control Yuan yesterday censured the Department of Health (DOH) for mismanaging a controversy over imports of US beef tongues in April.
Pointing to what he described as four “major lapses” committed by the DOH, Control Yuan member Cheng Jen-hung (程仁宏) said the DOH did not learn from its mistakes, lacked a sense of crisis, failed to proactively supervise beef imports and did not respond to public concerns in a timely fashion.
It was the second time the DOH has been censured over its handling of beef imports from the US. In March, it was reprimanded for mistakes in the government policy of opening Taiwan’s market to US bone-in-beef and other beef parts.
The latest dispute arose after the Bureau of Foreign Trade (BOFT) approved on April 15 an application by a Taiwanese beef importer to import 453kg of beef tongues and diaphragms from the US — the first application to import such products since Taiwan eased restrictions on US beef products in November.
Cheng said the bureau issued a permit to the importer because it did not consider tongues fall under the category of “internal organs” — which cannot be imported into Taiwan.
Although the bureau notified the DOH immediately after it issued the permit, DOH Minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) said he was unaware of the matter until he was asked about it by reporters, Cheng said.
In the face of rising public concern as to the safety of such imports, the DOH advised the importer against proceeding with his plan on April 20, and the bureau later announced that the application had been withdrawn.
However, Cheng said, the beef tongues had already been shipped by that date. After the shipment arrived in Taiwan on May 7, the importer voluntarily gave it up and it was destroyed by customs authorities, he said.
Cheng noted that since South Korea reopened its market to US beef in June 2008, there has been no importation of beef tongues because of an understanding reached between the two sides.
In addition, South Korea has listed beef tongue as a controlled item subject to batch-by-batch inspections and tests, should it ever be imported, Cheng said.
Instead of learning from the example of South Korea, however, the DOH mistakenly classed beef tongues as regular beef products and handled them according to relevant procedures, Cheng said.