Department of Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) yesterday said he had nothing to be ashamed of in the handling of a suspected case of mad cow disease earlier this year, as there had yet to be a single confirmed case of the disease in Taiwan.
Lawmakers on the Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee accused Yaung of failing to promptly make public information concerning the death of a 36-year-old Taiwanese man in May, ostensibly from mad cow disease.
Earlier this month, reports said the victim, who lived in the UK from 1978 until 1986, had died in May from what appeared to be mad cow disease.
In 2008, the victim began showing symptoms resembling those associated with Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD), including memory loss and hypersomnia. The case was reported as a suspected CJD case in March last year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said.
As the man’s family refused to provide tissue samples for testing or to give permission for an autopsy, pathologists were in no position to confirm the cause of death. However, based on his symptoms and his MRI and EEG records, a medical team determined it was “extremely likely” to be CJD.
The department came under heavy criticism after it was discovered that health authorities only began discussing the case after it was exposed by media.
Yaung and other health officials deny any wrongdoing over the matter.
The CDC said it had yet to confirm that the man had died of mad cow disease, as health authorities were unable to obtain agreement from the victim’s family for an autopsy. It said it would call a meeting of experts on the subject on Saturday to assess the situation.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Chiech-ju (陳節如) said at the meeting that Yaung should step down over the incident, as well as his failure to achieve consensus on a proposed second-generational health plan.
“I will not step down over this [incident],” Yaung said, adding that those were separate issues.
He would only step down, if necessary, over the National Health Insurance issue, he said.
A trade agreement on US beef imports signed in October last year caused a stir among health professionals and consumer groups, who said at the time that Taiwan had no facilities to deal with a possible outbreak of mad cow disease.
The legislature in January barred US ground beef, beef offal and other beef parts such as skulls, eyes and intestines, from entering the market, claiming it was a preventive measure against the disease.
The US says it has been scientifically proven that its beef is safe for consumption.