Taipei, April 30 (CNA) The government has enhanced its checks on beef imports following last week's discovery of a case of mad cow disease in the United States, Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta said Monday.
All U.S. beef imports, already being checked by batch for residues of the controversial leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine, will be checked by customs authorities for specified risk materials in light of the mad cow case in California, the minister said.
"If we find any residues of specified risk materials in U.S. beef, we will stop the imports immediately and ask the U.S. authorities for an explanation," Chiu said at a legislative committee hearing.
In addition, Chiu said the Department of Health will send a delegation to visit slaughterhouses in the U.S. as soon as possible to inspect the management of meat processing facilities and ensure that practices satisfy Taiwan's food safety regulations.
Taiwan currently allows imports of U.S. beef from cattle under 30 months old. According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, specified risk materials include brains, eye balls, spinal cords, spinal columns and skulls of cattle aged over 30 months, as well as tonsils and ileums from cattle of any age.
Taiwan first banned beef imports from the U.S. when a case of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), was reported in the state of Washington in December 2003 and then re-opened its doors to imports of boneless U.S. beef from cattle under 30 months old in April 2005.
It imposed another ban in June 2005 when a second U.S. case was reported.
Imports of boneless beef from cattle under 30 months of age were resumed in 2006 and bone-in beef was resumed in late 2009, but Washington has been pressing for wider opening and more recently, has lobbied strongly for Taiwan to lift its ban on beef containing the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine.
On April 24, a dairy cow in California was confirmed with mad cow disease by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was the fourth BSE case in the United States since 2003.
BSE is fatal to cows, while eating tainted meat can cause a fatal brain disease in humans known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
(By Jeffrey Wu)