Taipei, April 26 (CNA) Taiwan will immediately suspend imports of U.S. beef and relevant products if the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) heightens the United States' mad cow disease risk status, Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta said Thursday.
Chiu made the comment at a session of the Legislative Committee on Social Welfare, Health and the Environment on the government's response measures toward a new case of mad cow disease, academically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), in California.
The case came to light April 24 when a dairy cow in the central part of the U.S. state was confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be infected with atypical BSE, a disease that is fatal to cattle. Eating tainted meat can cause a fatal brain disease in humans known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
"As the infected meat did not enter the U.S. food supply chain and preliminary reports have shown the infection to be an isolated case, we will not halt U.S. beef imports for the time being," Chiu told lawmakers.
However, he went on, imports of U.S. beef and beef products will be suspended if the OIE pulls the U.S. off its list of countries recognized as "controlled risk" in its three-tier BSE risk categorization.
The OIE categorization system is designed to reflect the current knowledge and understanding of BSE and to recognize the effectiveness of steps countries have taken to mitigate the spread of the disease and eventually eradicate it. The categories are "negligible risk," "controlled risk," and "undetermined risk."
Chiu told lawmakers that neighboring Japan and South Korea have both decided not to stop U.S. beef imports over the latest mad cow disease case, the fourth on U.S. soil since 2003.
"The two Asian neighbors decided just to tighten inspections of beef imports from the U.S.," Chiu added.
The committee session, which was originally scheduled to screen draft revisions to the Act Governing Food Sanitation with the aim of conditionally lifting a ban on entry of U.S. beef containing residue of the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine, came to an abrupt end overdisagreement on whether the draft revisions should be voted onclause-by-clause or as a complete package.
Ruling Kuomintang Legislator Tsai Chin-lung, who chaired the session, said new rounds of cross-party consultations will need to be called to discuss the voting dispute.
(By Chen Wei-ting and Sofia Wu)