Tuesday, June 21, 2005

AmCham and US beef

The American Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan comments on US beef in Taiwan, once the sixth-largest market for that product:

For the non-profit Consumer Foundation, the issue was another not-to-be-missed opportunity to demonstrate its zeal in standing up for consumer interests, whether real or imagined. It questioned why Taiwan should drop the ban before such other countries as Japan and Korea had acted first, and it proposed that U.S. beef in supermarket display cases be labeled with a warning that the source was an infected area.

At that point the government's Consumer Protection Commission (CPC) apparently felt compelled to demonstrate that it too had the public's well-being at heart. Convening a meeting with major food distributors, with representatives of some other government departments also in attendance, the CPC raised several matters for discussion. For one, it sought assurances from retailers that the beef would be clearly identifiable by consumers as coming from the United States. That was determined to be no problem, since most stores had prepared special promotional displays and considered the country of origin to be a positive selling point. Another request, which the distributors readily agreed to, was that copies of the authorization documents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture be displayed at the point of sale, or at least be available if consumers asked to see them.

That left the point raised by the Consumer Foundation of requiring labeling that the beef was from an infected area, a step that would certainly discourage purchases and might in fact create unwarranted consumer worries about health risks. The DOH representative seemed to put the matter to rest by stating forcefully that the Department had full confidence in the thoroughness of the investigation process it went through before reaching its decision.

Since millions of Americans have been eating beef daily for the past year and a half without incident, and since no other problem case has arisen since 2003, there would seem to be no logical reason to challenge the DOH's professional judgment.

I don't eat beef much, and certainly not US beef. The Bush Administration's flagrant disregard for science and ethics, as well as its indifference to the health and safety of Americans, does not exactly fill me with confidence in its regulatory oversight, hence my personal ban. The CDC notes that the disease has a long incubation period that lasts years, which makes that last paragraph of the AmCham report downright disingenuous. The desperate hacking on consumer groups here is quite shameful-- note that there is nothing concrete to be said against them, so the writers have to revert to snarky comments and sneers. Taiwan has every right to protect itself, and were I health minister, no US beef imports would be permitted until an Administration committed to progress on safety and the environment enters office.

In fairness, despite the highly slanted presentations on US products -- and it's AmCham's job to push our exports -- the site does offer some solid articles on things to do on the Beautiful Island, including touring religious sites and eco-tourism, as well as some moderately scary articles on re-use of single-use items in local hospitals. Their links page, which might be useful, unfortunately appears to be dead.

UPDATE: June 26th....Taiwan has banned US beef again. No, really? Imagine that.

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