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Nothing yet final on U.S. beef issue: Cabinet spokesman

2012/02/09 16:53:17

Taipei, Feb. 9 (CNA) Executive Yuan spokesman Philip Yang said Thursday that nothing has been determined yet by the government pertaining to the thorny U.S. beef import issue.

Yang declined to confirm the veracity of a United Daily News report that the government will soon lift its ban on U.S. beef under certain conditions, including that warnings be carried on packaging telling consumers that the product might contain residue of the leanness-enhancing feed additive ractopamine.

He did confirm, however, that the new Cabinet that was sworn in Feb. 6 will devote its first inter-ministerial meeting set for the following day exclusively to the issue, which is now focused mainly on how to deal with ractopamine-tainted U.S. beef.

The meeting of a Cabinet task force, formed on the same day of the new Cabinet's swearing-in and aimed at solving the beef issue, will make its decision based on considerations of professional assessment, risk management and consumer opinion, Yang said.

The issue is one of the major challenges facing the new Cabinet because of the stakes involved in terms of Taiwan's trade relations with the United States.

Just as it appeared that suspended talks between Taiwan and the U.S. under the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) would resume in late 2010 and early 2011, Washington decided not to proceed after shipments of U.S. beef exported to Taiwan in January 2011 were seized by the Taiwanese authorities after being found to contain traces of ractopamine.

Washington has since pressured Taipei to revise its zero-tolerance policy for the leanness-enhancing drug.

Yang said the government has no preconceptions on the issue and has not set a timetable for a resolution of the controversy.

The Department of Health said meanwhile that Taiwan has the choice of reviewing its zero tolerance policy, maintaining the ban, lifting the ban only on beef but not on pork, or allowing ractopanine in meat products with companying labels indicating the meat's place of origin and that the product might contain ractopamine.

Several veterinary and toxicology experts have noted that small traces of the livestock feed additive in beef poses no health threat unless massive quantities of affected meat are consumed.

Lucy Sun, a National Taiwan University professor of food science and technology, said that even if many academics and doctors have confirmed that ractopamine is a safe, low-risk leanness enhancer, the government should still reassess the "hidden risks" that the drug might pose to consumers in Taiwan.

"Once a green light is given to the opening, the government should at least require that the meat packaging states place of origin and content of ractopamine to allow consumers to make their own choices" on whether or not they want to purchase it, Sun said.

(By Hsieh Chia-chen, Chen Ching-fang and Deborah Kuo)