Taiwan agreed to lift a ban on US bone-in beef from cattle younger than 30 months by signing a protocol on Taiwan’s market-opening measures in Washington on Thursday.
Under the terms of the new accord, US bone-in beef, ground beef, intestines, brains, spinal cords and processed beef from cattle younger than 30 months and that have not been contaminated with "specific risk materials" will be allowed in the initial phase.
Senior Media Affairs Liaison Nefeterius Akeli McPherson of the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) welcomed Taiwan’s decision to further open its market to US beef based on scientific evidence and policies that are in line with World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) standards.
McPherson said US beef exporters will follow a Department of Agriculture quality system assessment program to ensure that US beef entering Taiwan is from cattle less than 30 months of age and is certified through documentation, verification and traceability.
The OIE listed both the US and Taiwan in 2007 as countries in which bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, were under control.
It has continued to list cattle parts such as brains, skulls, eyes, spinal nerve roots, tonsils and small intestines, as “particularly risky” and these items remain on lists of export or import bans.
USTR officials said the US will continue cooperating with Taiwan on pushing exports of beef and related products that are carried in the protocol.
In Taipei, Department of Health (DOH) Vice Minister Hsiao Mei-ling (蕭美玲) told a press conference yesterday that the scope of Taiwan’s opening to US beef imports is on par with South Korea’s.
Thirty other countries allow the importation of US beef from cattle older than 30 months, Hsiao said.
Only beef without Specified Risk Materials, which include skulls, backbones, brain matter and certain intestine parts and organs, will be allowed into Taiwan, she said.
Hsu Tien-lai (許天來), chief of the Council of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection said he “believes” that US beef is free from health risks and its importation is not likely to cause diseases in Taiwan’s livestock industry or squeeze local producers.
“The move is not expected to impact on the local beef industry, given that the market for local and foreign beef is well segmented in Taiwan,” Hsu said.
Over the past three years, Washington has pushed Taiwan to open its market to US beef.
Taiwan banned US beef in 2003 when a case of mad cow disease was diagnosed in Seattle. The ban was lifted in April 2005 to allow imports of US de-boned beef from cattle under 30 months but the government reimposed the ban two months later when a second BSE case was discovered in the US.
In 2006, the DOH agreed to allow beef imports once again, but only boneless beef from cattle younger than 30 months, produced by certified slaughterhouses and without any risky parts.
Lawmakers across party lines yesterday expressed reservations about the safety of boned beef from the US.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus secretary-general Lu Hsueh-chang (呂學樟) told a press conference that the caucus opposed the DOH’s decision to lift the beef ban because the caucus remained concerned about health risks.
Lu said the caucus would not agree with the relaxation unless the DOH imposes strict screening standards while requiring importers to present official documents proving the quality of the beef.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus yesterday also criticized the DOH for “toying with people’s lives” and threatened to lead a crowd of protesters to the harbor when the first US meat shipment arrives.
“Some government officials said the chance of catching BSE is slimmer than getting struck by lightning. But the problem is there are still people who die of lightning strikes,” said DPP Lawmaker Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英), blasting the health authority for putting the public at risk for political reasons.
Huang said William Stanton, the top US envoy to Taiwan, recently said Taiwan has a chance of being included in the visa-waiver program.
She said she suspected the decision and the timing of the lifting of the ban were based on political considerations.
DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) said that if the government insisted on reopening the market to US beef, then the least it could do was follow Japan’s lead by inspecting each meat shipment instead of using random checks.
At a separate setting, Consumers’ Foundation official Gaston Wu (吳家誠) also criticized the government’s decision as irresponsible and recklessly endangering the lives of consumers.
“From a consumer’s standpoint, this decision is unacceptable, totally unacceptable,” Wu said.
BSE, unlike H1N1, is still an incurable disease, he said, adding that the lack of facilities equipped to analyze the disease coupled with lax regulatory standards for beef from the US make the disease especially dangerous.
“Unless the government can show it can ensure the safety and health of everyday consumers in a transparent and responsible manner ... [the restrictions] should not be rescinded.” Wu said.
According to Wu, this is also a clear case of the government caving in to US pressure.
“Our government, for political considerations, is willing to sacrifice the interests and health of its citizens,” Wu said. “As soon as the [US] started exerting pressure, our government crumbled.”
The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), on the other hand, welcomed the lifting of the ban.
“We welcome announcement of the new bilateral protocol on US beef imports into Taiwan and Taiwan’s publication of its amended import requirements for US beef and products, which are science-based and consistent with OIE guidelines,” AIT spokesman Thomas Hodges said yesterday.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that diplomatic maneuvering had played no part in the decision to lift the ban on US beef, but it welcomed any news that benefited the livelihoods of Taiwanese and improved Taiwan-US relations.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VINCENT Y. CHAO AND FLORA WANG
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