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Taiwan seeking upgrade of its mad cow disease risk status: official

2012/05/01 17:46:57

Taipei, May 1 (CNA) Taiwan is preparing to apply to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to have its local beef safety level upgraded next year, an animal quarantine official said Tuesday.

Like the United States, which confirmed a fourth mad cow disease case on April 24, Taiwan is listed as a nation with controlled-risk status of the disease, said Huang Kwo-ching, deputy director general of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine.

Though the country has not reported any cases of mad cow disease, known formally as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the OIE put Taiwan on the controlled-risk list because it imported potentially contaminated poultry meal from the United Kingdom when the U.K. was battling a mad cow disease outbreak in 1989 and 1990, Huang said.

Taiwan has conducted the required tests on domestically raised cattle over the past 10 years and found the animals to be clear of the disease, which Huang said supported an application for the country to be given a safety upgrade.

The topic of beef safety, especially related to imports of U.S. beef, has drawn widespread attention recently as Washington has ratcheted up pressure on Taiwan in recent months to accept beef containing residues of the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine.

Critics have challenged the overall safety of U.S. beef, and their concerns were only heightened when a case of mad cow disease was discovered recently in California, sparking calls for a complete ban.

If the OIE downgrades the United States to having "undetermined risk," the most serious rung on the risk scale, following the case, Taiwan's Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta has said the country would immediately suspend U.S. beef imports.

Matthew Goodman, former White House coordinator for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, said at a symposium on Taiwan and APEC integration in Washington D.C. Monday that the beef issue is key to Taiwan-U.S. economic and trade relations.

He acknowledged that the recent BSE case could complicate negotiations on American beef imports, but he said he would be surprised if Taiwan changed its U.S. beef import policy because scientific evidence has confirmed that the case was an isolated one.

Bilateral trade talks have remained stalled for a long time because of the beef dispute, the political economist noted, and Taipei will have to show its determination and ability to resolve the row before talks under a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) can resume.

Only then will other long-term bilateral trade issues, such as a free trade agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact, be discussed, the expert added.

As an APEC member, Taiwan will have the support of others, including the U.S., when it is ready to join the TPP, which is on the agenda of the APEC summit, Goodman said.

He did not deny, however, that Taiwan might face some "political challenges" if it tries to become part of the TPP before China but stressed that the situation was still difficult to predict.

(By Yang Shu-min, Lin Shu-yuan and Kendra Lin)