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Group urges halt of U.S. beef imports due to 'L-type' mad cow disease

2012/05/27 18:11:07

Taipei, May 27 (CNA) The Consumers' Foundation called Sunday for a halt to imports of U.S. beef following a report by an American consumer group that a recent U.S. mad cow disease case was an "L-type" atypical strain, which it said can be transmitted to humans.

After a Taiwanese delegation wrapped up a 23-day inspection trip of the U.S. beef supply chain and determined that U.S. beef products are safe for consumption, the local foundation doubted what problems the delegation could have found in such a whirlwind trip.

The seven-member team visited nine slaughterhouses, cattle farms, feed producers and laboratories across the U.S. but found only what it described as an oversight at one Kansas-based slaughterhouse in its procedure for removing tonsils from cattle. The U.S. government has suspended exports of beef products from that slaughterhouse to Taiwan, even though Taiwan does not import U.S. cattle tonsils.

Su Wei-shuo, a local psychiatrist, told a press conference held by the foundation that if the delegation was able to find a flaw like that in such a tight schedule, the problem could be just "the tip of the iceberg" in the U.S. meat supply chain.

Hsu Li-min, a trauma surgeon at National Taiwan University Hospital, said the delegation should have told the public how additives such as leanness enhancers, antibiotics and animal protein end up in the feed used for cattle that is supposedly fed on corn. He said there are still grass-fed cattle in the U.S. and that opposing American beef should not be considered an act of hindering economic growth in Taiwan, but rather an act calling for imports of better quality American meat.

The foundation presented a letter written by Michael Hansen, a senior scientist of the U.S. Consumers' Union, saying that studies have shown that "L-type" atypical mad cow strain can be transmitted to humans, possibly even more easily than "classical" mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). Hansen, who focuses on food safety issues, did no t specify the studies he cited.

The letter, which was written to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in early May, said the USDA has confirmed that the most recent case exhibited the "L-type" strain.

Earlier reports said that a dairy cow at a transfer station in Hanford, central California was confirmed to be infected with BSE by the USDA April 24. BSE is fatal to cows and eating tainted meat can cause a fatal brain disease in humans known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Hansen said in the letter that the case "may well not have been a 'spontaneous' case, but rather might well have been infected through feed and might be particularly infectious to humans."

"Beef slaughterhouse waste is fed to chickens, and a lot of the chicken waste then ends up being fed back to cattle. This should not be allowed, as we are turning cows into cannibals, the practice that started the mad cow problem in the first place," he added.

The union urged the U.S. authorities to prohibit all cattle brain and other high-risk material in animal feed because the infectious mad cow agent is most likely to be found in such tissue.

Hansen added that "it is surprising that the existing small testing program even detected this case," referring to the fact that the USDA only tests 40,000 of the 35 million cattle slaughtered in the country each year. He called for a thorough investigation.

(By Eva Feng and Jamie Wang)