A top US trade official has put off a scheduled visit to Taiwan as local health authorities intensified checks on US beef imports containing a banned drug, officials said Friday.
Commerce Under Secretary Francisco Sanchez has decided to postpone his planned March 4-6 visit due to "unforeseen circumstances," said the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de facto embassy, without elaborating.
The announcement came at a sensitive time as health officials in several cities across the island conducted checks on US beef products after a growth drug banned in Taiwan was found in some items.
Inspectors in Taipei visited fast food restaurant chains and steak houses on Friday, after beef containing ractopamine, a feed additive used to promote leanness in animals raised for meat, was found in a southern city.
The importer of the product has been fined $2,000 while some supermarkets and restaurants have voluntarily stopped supplying US beef, according to the Taipei health bureau.
"We only supply Australian and New Zealand beef, customer please rest assured," said the Noble Family Steak House chain on its website, with a picture of a cow with "US beef" crossed out.
The AIT has defended the safety of US beef, saying countries that banned ractopamine were "unable to document any legitimate food safety risk and used non-scientific reasons to justify their bans."
Washington has recently urged Taipei to ease restrictions on US beef, while some local officials have said that stalled free trade talks between the two sides hinge on the issue.
Taiwan banned all US beef imports in December 2003 over concerns about mad cow disease. In 2006, Taipei relaxed the rules to permit imports of boneless beef.
Source: AFP American Edition