To quell a political uproar over US beef imports, the government yesterday decided to use administrative means to obstruct the importing of ground beef and bovine intestines, but was firm on rejecting requests for new negotiations with Washington and amending laws.
Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said that Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) did not agree with a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative caucus demand that the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) be amended to ban the import of cow intestines, brains, eyes, spinal cords and ground beef. However, the premier agreed to all other demands.
The caucus demanded that imports of ground beef and intestines be dealt with as special cases and that all products be destroyed if shipments were mixed with bone-in beef.
It also demanded that all ground beef and intestines bear labels in a distinctive area on the package and that Washington prove they come from cows younger than 30 months old.
The lawmakers also said they want to visit the US to inspect beef product exportation procedures. Finally, all ground beef and intestine imports must be thawed for microscopic examination.
A presidential official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that to thaw frozen ground beef and intestines for inspection amounted to blocking the import of the products because they would deteriorate during the process.
“It satisfies both sides,” he said. “On the one hand, we address the public’s concerns. On the other hand, we don’t violate the protocol we signed with Washington.”
Besides, Wang said, it is an exercise of sovereignty to conduct inspections at borders, adding that he did not see any particular reason to stop the practice.
The official said the administration was against launching new negotiations based on diplomatic and political considerations, adding that Taiwan “must adopt international standards if it wants to participate in the international community and expand its internationasl space.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DOH) officially announced the government’s relaxation of US beef import regulations last night.
Under the terms of the protocol signed by the US and Taiwan, US bone-in beef, ground beef, cow intestines, brains, spinal cords and processed beef from cattle younger than 30 months that have not been contaminated with “specific risk materials” (SRM) will be allowed into Taiwan beginning next Tuesday.
SRMs are defined in the protocol as the brain, skull, eyes, trigeminal ganglia, spinal cord, vertebral column and dorsal root ganglia of cattle 30 months of age and older, or the tonsils and the distal ileum of the small intestine from all cattle.
The DOH said in an announcement on its Web site that the government would dispatch veterinarians to the US to inspect beef slaughterhouses to determine whether they remove beef contaminated by SRMs.
The DOH said the government had sent inspectors to check the safety of US beef on two occasions before the department announced the relaxation, adding that the DOH, the Council of Agriculture and other government agencies would also organize teams of experts to conduct random inspections on sources of beef in the US.
In Taiwan, the government would defrost and systematically check internal organs and tongues of cows imported from the US, the DOH said, adding that beef products that violate import regulations would be returned or destroyed.
The department said it would also push a proposed amendment to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) to require all restaurants specify the source of the beef in their dishes.
The government has been criticized by legislators across party lines and civic organizations after it announced its decision to further open the market to US beef products.
Cabinet Spokesman Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) said that the government would impose a strict gate-keeping mechanism on beef products imported from the US.
“We will have a double gate keeping [mechanism]: first for risky organs and second for the age [of the cows],” Su told reporters on his way to the legislature’s Education and Culture Committee meeting.
Su said the Executive Yuan would not object to a referendum proposed by a number of civic groups to demand renegotiation with the US concerning imports of beef products as long as the referendum was launched through due procedure.
He urged the public to be confident that the government would safeguard health.
“We will review import applications, while associations of [beef importers] will regulate their own members,” he said.
In related news, former minister of health Steve Chan (詹啟賢) was evasive yesterday when responding to questions about the safety of US beef, saying he hoped the government would do a good job in ensuring the quality of the products.
Chan, president of Kuo Kwang Biotechnology Co and former president of the Chi Mei Medical Center in Tainan, said he was in no position to comment on the administration’s decision to relax restrictions on US beef, but added that he did eat beef.
He said he would eat US beef “as long as it passes the government’s strict examination.”
He said he “hoped” the government would examine the products stringently to guarantee the quality of the products and ease public concerns.
When asked whether he would eat ground beef or intestines, Chan said he was not sure, adding that he would not reject it if the government conducts careful inspections. As to whether the government could do that, he was not certain.
Meanwhile, a YouTube video poking fun at the administration’s decision to drop restrictions on 30-month-old bone-in beef sparked a public frenzy.
The 160-minute film, entitled Are You Ready to Eat US Beef?, called on the administration to stop telling “monstrous lies” and to launch new negotiations with Washington.
Toward the end of the video, Ma said relaunching the negotiations would undermine the country’s credibility. Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) was dubbed to say “eat two bull’s testicles” and Ma was dubbed to say “give me two bowls of beef noodle soup with mixed intestines. It’s no more dangerous than riding the MRT.”
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