US beef import ban tops list of consumer news stories in 2010


TAIPEI, Taiwan — The controversy over the lifting of a ban on imports of American beef was the number one consumer news story in Taiwan in 2010, according to the Consumers’ Foundation, which has compiled a top-10 list.

Food safety became a major concern among Taiwan consumers because it was discovered that a rare case of death from suspected human mad-cow disease had been kept under wraps at a time when the legislature was amending the Act Governing Food Sanitation to ban imports of U.S. beef brain and marrow, the foundation said.

The death of a young man who had lived for years in the United Kingdom was later confirmed as a case of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, the foundation said, calling on health authorities to enforce proper food-safety regulations to reassure the public.

Second on the list was the Department of Health’s (DOH) attempts to reform the National Health Insurance (NHI) system while ignoring two major issues that would go a long way toward saving money in the cash-strapped NHI, the foundation said.

The DOH’s so called second-generation reform bill, which sought to calculate premiums on the basis of household income, totally ignored the “black holes” of pharmaceutical prices and the huge waste from other practices in the health system, according to the foundation.

It noted that the latest version of the DOH reform proposal, which calls for bonuses and dividends to be included in the calculation of premiums, was also controversial because many people saw it as case of “robbing the poor to feed the rich.”

The third most significant consumer news story selected by the foundation was about the registration of the “true size” of housing units.

The Control Yuan called the Ministry of the Interior’s (MOI) attention to the problem of inflated house measurements that incorporated outer walls and awnings — a practice that has caused disputes between buyers and sellers of the real estate, the foundation noted.

If the MOI continues to take the issue lightly, the foundation said it will ask the Control Yuan to investigate the ministry for failure to do its job properly.

Fourth on the list was a story about the low percentage of drivers who have installed ETC (electronic toll collection) devices on their vehicles, while more lanes have been allocated for ETC users on the freeway.

The fifth news item was the National Communications Commission’s announcement in April that mobile phone rates will be lowered by about 5 percent.

Even with that, the foundation said, cell phone rates in Taiwan were still relatively high compared to major countries of the world.

The issue of ticket prices for air travel was sixth on the list. One year after direct flights were launched between Taiwan and China, the airlines still have not lowered fares to a reasonable level, the foundation said.

Another air travel story about how a series of management and sanitation problems have hurt the image of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport was next on the list.

In eighth spot was Toyota’s recall of its cars after a string of safety and mechanical problems were reported. In ninth place was a series of incidents caused by botulinus toxin. The 10th story on the list was a change in credit card regulations to absolve secondary card holders from legal responsibility for debts incurred by the main card holder. The new regulations also stipulate that the issuing institutions should not charge customers more than NT$200 to replace lost or stolen credit cards.