One month after Japan lifted a two-year ban on U.S. beef, risk materials that could potentially cause mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was found in shipment of meat from a New York facility on Friday.
"The bone marrow of cattle is considered a special risk factor," said Hsiao. "According to the conditions outlined by the Department of Health, all imported beef must be deboned and should not include any other parts such as internal organs."
Moreover, all imported U.S. beef must be from animals under 30 months of age, the conditions state, in contrast to Japan's criteria of 20 months or younger.
Hsiao said that the health agency is in the process of collecting the necessary information on the contaminated shipment to Japan in order to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the meat safety issue.
The DOH has also commissioned experts to examine the management process in the U.S. meatpacking industry, he added.
On January 11, the DOH held a meeting to discuss the possibility of lifting the two-year ban on U.S. beef. Experts at the meeting concluded that Taiwan should re-introduce U.S. beef to the market as long as the conditions set by the DOH are met, Hsiao said.
However, only 10 out of the 17 experts invited were present at the meeting, he added.
Leaders from various opposition parties have condemned the decision by the DOH to lift the ban, calling it "unwise" and "hazardous" to the health of the public. Some lawmakers charged that many of the so-called experts on the panel have personal contacts with the U.S. meat industry, which amounts to a conflict of interest.
Taiwan suspended all importations of beef, live cattle, and other beef products from the U.S. in December 2003 when a case of mad cow disease was discovered in Washington State.
In April last year, the ban was temporarily lifted to allow the importation of boneless beef from animals under 30 months of age. However, within two months, the ban was reinstated after a second case of BSE was confirmed in the U.S.