Taipei, May 1 (CNA) Taiwanese health officials could visit slaughterhouses in the United States as early as this week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday, amid a lingering dispute over imports of American beef.
"They could leave this week or as soon as in two to three days," Bruce Linghu, head of the ministry's Department of North American Affairs, said at a routine press briefing.
The ministry has worked closely with the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) in arranging the trip for local health officials. The visit usually takes place once a year as part of efforts to ensure the safety of American beef imports, he said.
The AIT represents U.S. interests in Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties.
The trip to slaughterhouses was moved up this year following the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in California and the heated controversy in Taiwan over whether to allow imports of American beef containing residues of the leanness-enhancing drug ractopmaine.
"We are not only organizing it ahead of time, we hope to arrange it immediately," Linghu said, adding that relevant U.S. agencies have been informed of Taiwan's interest in visiting.
On April 24, the carcass of a dairy cow in California was confirmed to have 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.
Imports of U.S. beef have been a sore point in the trade relationship between Taipei and Washington.
Taiwan first banned imports when a case of BSE was reported in the state of Washington in December 2003, but re-opened its doors to imports of boneless U.S. beef from cattle under 30 months old in April 2005.
It imposed another complete ban in June 2005 when a second BSE case was reported in the U.S.
Imports of certain cuts of U.S. beef have since been resumed, but Washington has been pressing for a wider opening and, more recently, has lobbied strongly for Taiwan to lift its ban on beef containing ractopamine residues.
(By Nancy Liu)