Taipei, April 25 (CNA) The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said Wednesday it has informed Taiwan of a new case of mad cow disease discovered in the United States.
"We have shared this information with the Taiwan government," AIT spokesman Christopher Kavanagh told CNA in a telephone interview.
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.
Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta said earlier in the morning that the Department of Health had asked the AIT, which represents U.S. interests in Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties, for information on the case.
Speaking on the sidelines of a Legislative Yuan committee hearing, Chiu said the U.S. government is obligated to inform Taiwan of any case of mad cow disease discovered on its territory under a bilateral agreement.
Kavanagh described the case as posing no health risks to humans because the cow was not to be slaughtered for meat and the disease could not be transmitted by drinking milk from infected animals.
"The cow is an atypical case of BSE," he added.
An atypical case is "a random mutation that can happen every once in a great while in an animal," said Bruce Akey, director of the New York State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Cornell University, according to an AP report.
U.S. public health officials were quick to say that none of the meat from the animal was bound for the U.S. food supply chain, according to various reports.
Asked whether the new case of mad cow disease would affect Taiwan's policy on U.S. beef imports, Chiu said his department will further discuss the issue before making any decision.
Imports of U.S. beef have been a major sticking point in trade ties between Taipei and Washington, and the latest report adds a new variable to the dispute.
Taiwan first banned imports of U.S. beef when a case of mad cow disease 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 case of mad cow disease was reported in the U.S.
Imports of certain cuts of U.S. beef have resumed since then, but Washington has pressed for a wider opening and has more recently lobbied strongly for Taiwan to lift its ban on beef containing the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine.
The Legislature was scheduled Wednesday to begin screening draft revisions to the Act Governing Food Sanitation aimed at lifting the ractopamine ban, but the review was postponed because of the reported new mad cow disease case.
Mad cow disease is fatal to cows and eating contaminated meat can cause a fatal brain disease in humans known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
(By Chen Wei-ting, Nancy Liu and Sofia Wu)