Taipei, May 4 (CNA) Taiwan officials will embark on a two-week visit Saturday to U.S. slaughterhouses to review the safety of its beef products, following the discovery of a new case of mad cow disease in California late last month, the Council of Agriculture said Friday.
The delegation will visit nine slaughterhouses responsible for supplying 78 percent of U.S. beef exported to Taiwan, as well as cattle farms, feed producers and laboratories, said Wang Cheng-teng, the council's deputy head, at a press conference.
"The purpose of the trip is to make sure of the safety of U.S. beef," he said, amid domestic concerns over possible health risks accociated with eating American meat.
A briefing on the fourth case of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), in the U.S. since 2003 will also be delivered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he added.
Close attention will be paid to the slaughtering process, hygiene issues and the treatment of potentially dangerous animal parts like spinal cords, he said, adding that the Taiwanese delegation will also check that the facilities fully comply with the Quality System Assessment Standard set by the U.S.
The six-member delegation will be composed of officials from the Council of Agriculture, the Department of Health and the Taiwan representative office in the U.S. The head of the Animal Technology Institute is the only non-government representative in the delegation.
"The scale and content of the visit will be larger and more detailed than previous ones," Wang said.
Taiwan sends a delegation to inspect U.S. slaughterhouses on a routine basis each year. This year's schedule was pushed forward due to the case of mad cow disease and the government's plan to lift the ban on U.S. beef containing ractopamine, a leanness-enhancing livestock feed additive.
Local civic groups and some health specialists have argued that ractopamine poses unidentified health risks and have accused the government of compromising the nation's health in the interest of diplomatic gains.
Responding to a reporter's question as to why civic representatives were not invited on the inspection trip, Wang said "the nature of the visit made it seem inappropriate," as the inspection tour was more like an official state-to-state visit.
He also justified the background and qualification of the delegation members, saying that most of them have been on previous trips and "will spare no effort in safeguarding the nation's health."
Taiwan currently allows imports of U.S. beef from cattle under 30 months old.
According to the World Organization for Animal Health, specified risk materials include brains, eye balls, spinal cords, spinal columns and skulls of cattle aged over 30 months, as well as tonsils and ileums from cattle of any age.
Imports of U.S. beef have been a sore point in trade ties between Taipei and Washington for many years.
Taiwan first banned beef imports from the U.S. 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 boneless beef from cattle under 30 months of age were resumed in 2006 and bone-in beef was resumed in late 2009, but Washington has been pressing for wider opening and, more recently, has lobbied strongly for Taiwan to lift its ban on beef with ractopamine.
(By Nancy Liu)