National Security Council (NSC) Secretary-General Su Chi (蘇起) said yesterday his agency recommended lifting the ban on the import of US bone-in beef, beef organs and ground beef, and that the decision was made after a long scientific assessment.
“The safety and health of the public was the most important consideration when we made the decision. That’s why it took us over a year to finally make a decision,” Su told a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The government agreed to lift a ban on imports of US bone-in beef and certain other beef products in late October, triggering widespread criticisms and concern about public health because of fears of mad cow disease.
Su said he was as suspicious of the safety of US beef as most people when he took up his job in May last year, but he became convinced that hazards posed by US beef were small enough to be considered risk-free after more than one year of research.
“We’ve looked at all the scientific data carefully, and we sent [former] deputy minister of heath Sung Yen-jen (宋晏仁) to the US to look at the slaughter facilities, and talked with veterinarians there to make sure that everything is safe,” Su said.
“Finally, we decided that the chance of getting mad cow disease by consuming US beef — 1.5 out of 10 billion for beef organs and 5.7 out of 10 billion for ground beef — was low enough,” he said.
Although Su stressed several times during the press conference that the government did not sign the beef agreement with the US in exchange for anything, he also repeatedly said lifting the ban would benefit the Taiwan-US relationship.
“In the past year, there have been improvements in both political and economic areas in cross-strait relations, yet, economic ties between Taiwan and the US have been on the decline despite increased political trust between the two countries,” Su said.
“This is not good and we need to make some changes” he said.
He said trade with the US in 2000 was 25 percent of Taiwan’s total foreign trade, but this figure had dropped to 15 percent this year.
“A number of trade issues between Taiwan and the US remain unresolved” and lifting the ban on beef could make it easier for further trade talks with the US, Su said.
Commenting on proposals from both Democratic Progressive Party and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers to amend the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) to bar imports of US beef products, Su said all of the proposals would violate the beef agreement and lead the US to retaliate.
Violating the agreement could hurt Taiwan-US relations in economic and non-economic fields and could affect Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, the NSC chief said.
The best thing was to leave it to the government to block possible health hazards through executive means, he said.
Asked by the Taipei Times why the government did not negotiate with the legislature and the public before signing the agreement, Su said the job should be done by specific government agencies that have all the details, not by the NSC.
“I’ve actually offered my apology to the Legislative Yuan for the lack of communication beforehand,” Su said. “The NSC was not assigned to do the job [communicating with the legislature and the public].”
At a separate setting yesterday, KMT caucus secretary-general Lu Hsueh-chang (呂學樟) said the caucus would consider Su’s suggestion, but it would still seek to amend the act.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY FLORA WANG AND CNA
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