Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Taiwan seeks to limit fallout from US beef ban

TAIPEI — Taiwan will send a government delegation to the United States as it seeks to limit the fallout from controversial parliamentary plans to resume a ban on some US beef imports, a top official said Wednesday.

The announcement came after the island's parliament on Tuesday agreed to amend a law on food health to ban imports of US cow organs, minced beef and other high-risk items such as spines and eyes.

"We will send a delegation to the United States soon in order to minimise the damage and prevent any serious impact on Taiwan-US ties," presidential spokesman Wang Yu-chi told reporters.

Washington had expressed dismay at Tuesday's announcement, while Taiwan's foreign minister Timothy Yang warned it could affect planned trade talks with the United States.

The legislators' decision was to be finalised next week in a vote that would also determine whether beef-on-the-bone should be banned as well.

The move will partially overturn a decision by the health department in October to allow imports of US beef-on-the-bone and cow organs, which met with a public outcry.

Thousands of people took to the streets last month to protest, saying the government had ignored concerns over mad cow disease, the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

The opposition party and some activists have accused the authorities of bowing to pressure from Washington to downplay the alleged health risks of certain US beef products.

Taiwan banned all US beef imports in December 2003 over fears of mad cow disease. In 2006, it relaxed the rules to permit imports of boneless beef.

Some scientists believe that consumption of the brains and spinal cords of animals infected with BSE can lead to the potentially fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

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