Taiwan is preparing to apply to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to have its beef safety level upgraded next year, an animal quarantine official said yesterday.
Like the US, which confirmed a fourth case of mad cow disease on April 24, Taiwan is listed as a nation with a controlled risk of the disease, Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine Deputy Director-General Huang Kwo-ching (黃國青) said.
Though the country has not reported any cases of mad cow disease, known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the OIE put Taiwan on the controlled-risk list because it imported potentially contaminated poultry meal from the UK when the UK was battling a mad cow disease outbreak in 1989 and 1990, Huang said.
Taiwan has conducted tests on domestically raised cattle over the past 10 years and found the animals to be clear of the disease, which Huang said lent weight to an application for a safety upgrade.
The topic of beef safety, especially related to imports of US beef, has drawn widespread attention, with Washington ratcheting up pressure for Taiwan to accept imports of beef containing residues of the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine.
Critics have challenged the overall safety of US beef and their concerns were only heightened when a case of mad cow disease was discovered recently in California, sparking calls for a complete ban.
If the OIE downgrades the US to the status of “undetermined risk,” the most serious rung on the risk scale, Minister of Health Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) said the country would immediately suspend US beef imports.
Matthew Goodman, former White House coordinator for the APEC forum, said at a symposium on Taiwan and APEC integration in Washington on Monday that the beef issue is key to Taiwan-US economic and trade relations.
He said the recent BSE case could complicate negotiations on US beef imports, but added that he would be surprised if Taiwan changed its US beef import policy because the case was isolated.
Bilateral trade talks have stalled for a long time because of the beef dispute, the political economist said, and Taipei will have to show its determination and ability to resolve the row before talks under a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement can resume. Only then will other long-term bilateral trade issues, such as a free-trade agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, be discussed, he said.