Taipei, April 28 (CNA) Taiwan's Department of Health (DOH) said Saturday it is seeking permission from the relevant United States authorities to visit slaughterhouses there in light of a recently discovered case of mad cow disease in California.
Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta is hoping that a DOH delegation can make the trip as soon as possible so that its report can be taken into account in the amendments to the Act Governing Food Sanitation, according to health department spokesman Wang Che-chao.
Wang said the health department has been organizing such trips once or twice per year as part of efforts to ensure the safety of U.S. beef imports.
The department thinks a trip to U.S. slaughterhouses is necessary at this time to learn more about meat processing practices there, in light of the new mad cow case and the recent controversy over residues of the livestock leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine in U.S. beef, Wang said.
It has not yet been decided whether cattle ranches and feed factories should be included in the trip, he said.
The DOH has received a preliminary report from the U.S. on the mad cow case and will assess the safety of American beef after the U.S. provides a more comprehensive report, according to Wang.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a letter to Taiwan's Agriculture Minister Chen Bao-ji that American beef and diary products in the food supply chain remained safe.
Vilsack said he hoped the mad cow issue would not hurt trade relations between Taiwan and the U.S.
The letter was delivered to Chen late Friday via Taiwan's top representative to the U.S. Jason Yuan.
Vilsack said the infected cow, found at a transfer station in Hanford, central California, was born in September 2001 at a dairy that housed 1,200 cattle. Precautions, including quarantine and inspection, have been reinforced at the dairy, he said.
On April 24, a dairy cow in California was confirmed with mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
BSE is fatal to cows and eating tainted meat can cause a fatal brain disease in humans known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
(By Lin Shu-yuan, Chen Ching-fang and Jamie Wang)