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Taiwan gets preliminary information from U.S. on mad cow case

2012/04/27 21:56:27

Taipei, April 27 (CNA) Washington has provided Taipei with preliminary information on a mad cow disease case recently discovered in the United States and commissioned a large-scale study on cattle to better assess the risk, Foreign Minister Timothy Yang said Friday.

A complete investigative report will be delivered after relevant authorities finish a cohort study -- which follows subjects with similar characteristics -- on 1,200 cattle born in the same year as the infected one, Yang said in an interview with CNA.

The latest information on the case, such as the age of the cow, was passed to Taiwan Friday by Darci Vetter, deputy under-secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, the minister said.

The carcass of a dead cow being at a transfer station in central California was found on April 24 to have been infected with atypical bovine spongiform encephalothapy (BSE), which means it was caused by a genetic defect rather than contaminated feed.

BSE is fatal to cows and eating tainted meat can cause a fatal brain disease in humans known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Acknowledging the public scare caused by the incident, Yang noted that the U.S. is still listed under BSE "risk controlled" countries by the World Organization for Animal Health.

"The public could feel uneasy for the time being ... but in due time (the case) will be proven to be an isolated one," Yang said.

Indonesia has blocked imports of certain American beef products since the scare broke out. Taiwan, along with Japan and South Korea, has not imposed a complete ban on U.S. beef, but it already prohibits imports of high-risk parts of U.S. cows, such as brains and spinal cords.

Asked if the incident would influence the Legislature's decision to lift a ban on imports of U.S. beef containing the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine, Yang said he trusted that "all factors will be discussed in the Legislature, including the health of the people, which is the most important thing."

The Legislature has recently been reviewing draft amendments to a food safety act related to the use of ractopamine in beef.

Several amendments submitted by both ruling and opposition lawmakers propose a zero-tolerance policy for ractopamine, despite pressure from the U.S. to set minimum residue levels.

Imports of U.S. beef have been a sore point in trade ties between Taipei and Washington.

Taiwan first banned imports when a case of 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 certain cuts of U.S. beef have since been resumed, but Washington has been pressing for wider opening and more recently, has lobbied strongly for Taiwan to lift its ban on ractopamine-fed beef.

(By Nancy Liu)