Following an uproar over the government’s decision to relax restrictions on imports of US beef, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director William Stanton yesterday urged Taiwanese to look at scientific facts on US beef rather than paying attention to “rumors and myth.”
“The World Organization of Animal Health has deemed US beef safe to eat. There are no cases ever that anyone has gotten the Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease [the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known as BSE or mad cow disease] from eating US beef. No cases ever, and that’s a population of 304 million Americans and over 94 million cattle,” Stanton said on his way to deliver a speech at National Chengchi University.
There has been an uproar since the Department of Health announced last Friday that Taiwan would lift a partial ban on US beef imports that was imposed after cases of BSE were recorded there.
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 that have not been contaminated with “specific risk materials” will be allowed to enter Taiwan starting on Nov. 10.
At present, Taiwan allows imports of US boneless beef from cattle younger than 30 months that do not contain “specific risk materials.”
Stanton said yesterday that 1,034 people out of 23 million Taiwanese lost their lives in scooter accidents last year.
“So when you look at the risk, statistically, [in contrast to] no cases of mad cow disease [reported in the US], well, one might conclude that one should stop driving motor scooters because of the risk [of the accidents],” he said.
Stanton declined to comment on Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) campaign to boycott ground beef, intestines and spinal cords from the US, saying that the US would never export unsafe products.
“We are not going to export any risky beef. US beef is safe. The whole cow is safe,” he said.
Stanton said there was no relation between eating a cow’s internal organs and acquiring the disease.
“I understand people’s concerns, but I’d ask people not to listen to rumors and myth, but to look at the facts, the scientific facts,” he said.
Stanton also dismissed media speculation that Taiwan had not been on equal footing during the negotiations. He said the US regarded Taiwan as an equal partner during the lengthy discussions over the past couple of years and that both sides had been very straightforward during the talks.
“We reached the agreement fairly and freely. It was what was perceived to be in everyone’s best interests,” he said.
The US is a strong supporter of free and open trade and Washington believes it is the right thing for Taiwan to open up the Taiwanese market to US beef, he said. In response to calls for renegotiation, Stanton said the possibility had not been discussed.
“We think we reached a good deal. We think what needs to happen is the people of Taiwan need to learn the facts about US beef,” Stanton said.
At the legislature, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-dominated Procedure Committee blocked a proposal by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to demand the government renegotiate beef imports with Washington.
The committee also blocked a DPP proposal that would oblige the government to seek the legislature’s consent before the beef import agreement could take effect.
KMT caucus secretary-general Lu Hsueh-chang (呂學樟) told reporters the caucus would instead push another proposed amendment to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) that would introduce screening mechanisms, adding that the caucus would launch a campaign to boycott internal organs from US cows if the proposed amendment failed to clear the legislative floor.
Unveiling the campaign’s logo at Taipei City Hall yesterday morning, Hau said Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強) and Kaohsiung County Commissioner Yang Chiu-hsing (楊秋興) had expressed interest in their cause and possibly joining the boycott. Hau said the city would be happy to help any local governments interested in the campaign.
Hau said the reason behind the drive was simple: As Taipei mayor and a food safety expert, he is duty bound to ensure food safety and the health of all Taipei residents.
“There are no political considerations in our decision,” he said. “I can fully understand why the government made such a decision under pressure from the US and the international community.”
Since he made the announcement on Monday, Hau said that more than 200 shops and restaurants had signed up and would be eligible to display the logo.
Hau said the city planned to manage beef imports from their arrival and through distribution channels. Participating businesses then manage themselves independently and the city would conduct random inspections, he said.
He also encouraged the public to report offenses to authorities.
Stores caught violating the association’s regulations would face fines of between NT$60,000 and NT$150,000 under the Consumer Protection Law (消費者保護法), said Liu Chug-chun (劉佳鈞), chief manager of the Taipei City Office of Commerce.
Liu said the office planned to send out invitations to 15,000 businesses on Friday and visit shops to promote the plan from Sunday to Nov. 15. Amid speculation that the city government’s move would worsen Hau’s relationship with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said the positions of the city and central government were consistent because they both wanted to protect the health of residents.
Wang also said the country has negotiated a better deal than South Korea and set stricter rules.
Taipei City Department of Health Commissioner Allen Chiu (邱文祥) the department would ask businesses that declined to join the association to specify the source of beef items on their menus, a plan approved by the central government’s Department of Health.
Hong Chin-lung (洪金龍), chairman of Taipei City’s Exchange and Development Association of Beef Noodles, said his association members used only Taiwan beef and would never use US beef, especially ground beef, spinal cords and brains.
Meanwhile, National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起) was invited to attend a legislative committee meeting to explain the government’s decision on lifting the ban on US beef today. After DPP lawmakers alleged that Su was the mastermind behind the decision to lift the ban on US beef, the Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee asked him to answer questions.
When approached by reporters yesterday, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said he applauded Hau for launching the boycott as it was intended to remove public doubts over the safety of products.
“The safety standards adopted in lifting imports were stricter than in the EU and South Korea, but people still have concerns. The actions taken by local governments are to clear the public’s mind of doubt and they deserve approval,” Wu said.
Wu said he supported the movement, adding that consumers would make the final decision.
“They can choose to eat [US beef and beef products] or not,” he said.
He also denied allegations that the government decided to lift the restrictions in exchange for the resumption of the US-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFA) talks.
When asked to comment on a joint announcement released by the four major importers and exporters associations that said they would hold off on importing ground beef and internal organs from the US, Executive Yuan Spokesman Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) said that “the government was not involved in this.”
In related developments, the Ministry of Education’s Department of Physical Education Director Wang Chun-chuan (王俊權) said the ministry would not encourage schools to include US beef in their school lunch menus until the Department of Health has confirmed the safety of US beef.
Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) also urged the government to rethink its decision to relax US beef import regulations.
The DPP demanded the government relaunch negotiations with Washington and said the ban would have minimal impact on Taiwan’s bid for a TIFA. The party called on the government to delay relaxing the ban until further discussions can be held.
Speaking at a press conference, DPP Department of International Affairs Director Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) told a press conference the government had failed the people by not sticking to its ground.
Moreover, she said, the government never consulted health experts before making its decision.
“There are losses and gains to each trade deal. But we can’t tell what Taiwan has gained from this one,” she said, adding that Taiwan did not seek any quid pro quo from the US for agreeing to open up the market.
If the KMT can botch a negotiation with the US — a friendly country — imagine how much more damage it can do when it tries to forge a deal with a hostile country like China, she said.
Meanwhile, one day after he announced his boycott, Hau urged the public to refrain from politicizing the matter. Hau said on Monday that the city government would form an “Anti-US Ground Beef, Intestines and Spinal Cords Association” and encourage the more than 15,000 restaurants, department stores and supermarkets in Taipei to join a boycott. Taipei was the first local government to announce action against the central government’s beef policy.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JENNY W. HSU AND CNA
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