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U.S. beef found to contain ractopamine recalled

2012/03/02 19:24:44

Taipei, March 2 (CNA) Beef imported from the United States by a meat importer in Taichung last July has tested positive for residues of a leanness-enhancing drug, with some 300 kilograms of the 20,000-kg. shipment recovered so far, a health official said Friday.

Chen Shu-hui, a section chief at Taichung's Health Bureau, said the department ordered the vendor -- Natural Meat Corp. -- on Thursday to recall as much of the imported U.S. boneless steak as it could.

The action came after the bureau received a tip from the Kaohsiung municipal government that beef from the importer being sold in two supermarkets in the city was found to contain the controversial leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine, Chen said.

After getting the tip, Chen said the bureau distributed 4,000 fast-screening kits to meat importers, supermarkets and wholesale outlets in Taichung on Friday to test for the presence of leanness-enhancing drugs.

The owner of Natural Meat Corp., identified only by his surname Hung, said that his company mainly imports beef from Australia and New Zealand, but that a shipment of U.S. beef was brought in at customers' request last July.

Most of the 20,000-kg shipment, which passed a random inspection when it cleared customs last year, has been sold in Taipei and New Taipei, with about 500 kg being distributed in Taichung, Hung said. About 333 kg of the meat has been recovered so far.

But because of the length of time that the product has been on the market, there is a good chance much of it has already been eaten by consumers.

Taipei's Department of Health (DOH) found that meat wholesaler "Yu Ming" in Nangang District in Taipei bought 1,490 kg and 1,477.4 kg ofU.S. beef from Natural Meat Corp. on Aug. 4 and Aug.13 respectively last year.

All of the meat was sold to restaurants in Taipei and New Taipei in September and October last year, according to DOH section chief Chen Li-chih, but it was unclear if the restaurants had any of it left in inventory.

The latest discovery was made during a check by Kaohsiung health officials, who found three supermarkets -- including a Matsusei store -- and a noodle vendor at a technology college selling U.S. beef containing ractopamine residues.

Two of the supermarkets were selling beef from Natural Meat Corp. while the third had been supplied by Taipei-based importer Shuh Sen Co. The source of the noodle vendor's beef remains unknown.

Taipei's health department fined Shuh Sen NT$60,000 (US$2,034).

Also on Friday, Taipei health officials inspected fast-food chains, steak houses and traditional markets and checked for documents showing the meat's country of origin and that it was free from leanness-enhancing drugs.

They also collected samples for testing, with results expected to be available a week later.

Meanwhile, the Hsinchu City Public Health Bureau randomly checked four pieces of U.S. beef and found one of them, provided by a supplier based in New Taipei, to contain ractopamine.

Bureau chief Yao Ke-wu said it has asked New Taipei health officials to track the meat's origin and vowed to continue conducting inspections in Hsinchu.

Ractopamine is banned in Taiwan and many other countries around the world but is legal as a feed additive in the United States, Australia and elsewhere.

The U.S. has put pressure on Taiwan to lift its ban on the drug, which has sparked a backlash from opposition parties and civil groups.

(By Huang Chin-kung, Nancy Sha, Sabrina Lee, Huang Yen-yu and Jamie Wang)