The government would only consider banning the import of US beef if the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) raised its risk status in the wake of a new case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease) in the US, the Department of Health said yesterday.
Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) made the announcement during a briefing at the legislature’s Health, Environment and Social Welfare Committee on amendments to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) to stipulate a safe level for the feed additive ractopamine in food, as well as related regulations.
However, legislators focused on a report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Tuesday that confirmed a case of mad cow disease, in a dairy cow in California.
The department said on Wednesday night that Taiwan had no plan to ban US beef imports for the time being.
Asked if there had been any change in the department’s decision, Chiu said it was trying to verify details of the case with the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT).
“According to the Protocol of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)-Related Measures for the Importation of Beef and Beef Products for Human Consumption from the Territory of the Authorities Represented by the AIT, we need to first verify and then see if the OIE has made any announcement [about a risk status revision],” Chiu said. “The protocol says [the US] will inform us and we are still waiting for them to do so.”
Under the protocol, following a case of BSE, the USDA must immediately conduct a thorough epidemiological investigation and inform the department and the Council of Agriculture of the results via the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office
The department would suspend imports of beef and beef products if the recent cases resulted in the OIE designating an adverse change in the classification of BSE status.
The animal in question was a dairy cow, Chiu said, adding that as a result it did not enter the meat supply chain. After an initial evaluation, the department had therefore determined that this was an isolated case and decided to continue to allow US beef imports.
The decision was opposed by several lawmakers on the committee, who asked the government announce an immediate suspension of US beef imports.
“The mad cow disease case in 2003 also involved a dairy cow,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chao Tien-lin (趙天麟) said. “Back then, the government stopped imports of US beef for a year. You [the department] should do likewise [despite] the unequal treaties this government has signed.”
Committee Convener Tsai Chin-lung (蔡錦隆), a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator, said the government should suspend all talks on issues related to ractopamine if there were additional mad cow cases in the US and a risk upgrade by the OIE.
Tsai announced a recess for negotiations after the DPP proposed putting the amendment to a vote, but he then left the chamber and did not return, effectively putting review of the amendment on hold again.
At a press conference, the DPP caucus condemned the government for its inaction and submitted a three-point demand to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
“The caucus demands that Ma remove all domestic US beef products from the shelves, freeze all US beef imports being processed by customs and halt all US beef imports,” DPP Legislator Pan Men-an (潘孟安) said.