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Taiwan students protest at AIT against US beef imports

Thorough meat inspections limited to countries with poor record: Vice Premier

Taiwan students protest at AIT against US beef imports

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Students protested outside the American Institute in Taiwan Friday as the government promised to tighten its supervision of meat imports.
The moves came amid rising public worry over the presence of leanness drug residues in beef, pork, duck and goose products.
About 30 students and social activists gathered outside the AIT offices in Taipei and shouted slogans against the import of beef from animals fed ractopamine, a leanness agent banned in Taiwan and many other countries. The government of President Ma Ying-jeou announced earlier this month it would work toward a conditional end to the ban.
When the protesters moved to perform a skit which included the burning of a Statue of Liberty replica, police detained two protesters and took them to a local station for questioning, reports said. They also took away the statue effigy and the fuel needed to light it.
The protesters accused the police of abuse of power, but the latter said the two detained individuals had been endangering the public by threatening to set fire inside an area where no protests had been officially allowed.
The government promised it would toughen up checks of meat imports after health inspections over the past few weeks found ractopamine and other illegal substances in meat products at restaurants and supermarkets even though the ban has not been lifted yet.
Vice Premier Jiang Yi-huah said the government would do its utmost to restore public confidence in food safety. The measures included tougher checks and the eventual publication of the names of offenders, as well as inspections of each batch of imported meat products.
Jiang chaired the first meeting of a new inter-ministerial food safety taskforce Friday morning. Its second meeting was scheduled for Sunday.
The Department of Health said it would begin checking all imported meat products batch by batch next week, but Jiang specified that only meat from countries that had a poor record on ractopamine would be subject to the thorough inspections.
The vice premier said that before that could start, a precise procedure had to be worked out to restrict delays to a minimum. The inspections could cause a bottleneck at the border and storage problems for businesses, he said.
According to the DOH plan, if five consecutive samples of meat from the same country proved to be safe, the checks would be cut down to cover only 20 percent of the meat, while five further inspections showing no ractopamine would lead to only 5 percent of the meat products being inspected.
Jiang also uttered the suggestion that more consumers’ rights groups and social organizations could participate in the process. The government has repeatedly come under fire for keeping its decision making about the ractopamine secret. A prominent academic walked out of an inter-ministerial meeting sponsored by the Council of Agriculture when his request for more openness was turned down. As a result, the next meeting was broadcast live to media.
In future, the government would also act immediately when receiving information about problem food by informing the public, Jiang said. The remark was interpreted as a reference to the recent bird flu outbreak in Changhua. The COA took two months to order a poultry cull after it had first learned of the outbreak. Prosecutors are investigating allegations of a government cover-up.
More inspections of meat products at markets, shops and restaurants were due to begin March 20, while the smuggling in of illegal substances and the addition of illegal drugs to animal feed would be targeted, reports said.