Thu, Mar 08, 2012 - Page 3 News List

US BEEF CONTROVERSY: Lawmakers grill DOH minister over beef policy

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff Reporter

Children eat lunch at their desks at a school in Yunlin County yesterday after the education department banned US beef from school lunches amid worries about the animal feed additive ractopamine.

Photo: Huang Shu-li, Taipei Times

The current US beef dispute “is not about a drug, but about consuming meat,” Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) said yesterday, as legislators questioned him about the government’s plan to conditionally lift a ban on US beef containing residues of ractopamine.

Chiu said the government would follow international standards in establishing limits for the feed additive to protect public health.

However, lawmakers on the Health, Environment and Social Welfare Committee said they strongly doubted the department’s ability given its failure to enforce the “three management and five checkpoint” measures on US beef imports. They said recent reports that nearly a fourth of imported US beef products failed inspections at customs and in the marketplace were a sign that the measures had failed completely.

Launched in November 2009 during the mad cow disease scare, the “three management” measures refer to source management, border management and market management of imported US beef.

In a report to legislators, the department said it would continue to supervise local agencies on meat inspection, strengthen management control at borders, demand mandatory labeling of the source of meat, inform importers and the food industry about the strengthened management principles and hold a risk evaluation meeting within two weeks to discuss the enforcement measures in accordance with the government’s new policy.

However, department data showed that of the 205 batches of US beef imports tested, out of a total of 3,308 shipments between last year and Feb. 28, 52 were found to contain ractopamine residue. Moreover, of the 67 cases of inspections of US beef in the market between Jan. 1 and Monday, 15 cases were found to contain ractopamine.

When Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Chieh-ju (陳節如) asked what the department’s stance was on the government’s plan to lift the ban, Chiu said: “Of course, after evaluation, I think it should be lifted.”

DPP Legislator Liu Chien-kuo (劉建國) questioned the department’s willingness to back up the Executive Yuan’s stance, instead of standing up to protect public health.

Chiu said the decision to move toward a lifting of the ban was made based on scientific evidence and the conclusions of a technical advisory meeting.

DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) countered that the conclusions clearly stated that the panel had not found mass-scale epidemiology research results about the effects of ractopamine on human health.

However, Chiu replied: “It has to be evaluated according to scientific evidence.”

“The department had also tried to find scientific research results for reference,” Chiu said. “The US has been using ractopamine [in animal feed] since 1999, and after so many years, we have not seen any case of consumers getting poisoned. Health problems have only been found in animals,” he said.

“There are more than 100 types of drugs used on animals and more than 300 types of pesticides used on vegetables in Taiwan. We have a maximum residue limit for all of them,” Chiu said. “It’s about the volume of intake.”

Chen said Lin Chieh-liang (林杰樑), a toxicologist at Linkuo Chang Gung Memorial Hospital who attended the meeting, had suggested that the maximum intake should be set at below 5 parts per billion (ppb), or even as low as 2.5ppb.

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