The Department of Health (DOH) said two supermarkets, Costco and RT-MART, had removed U.S.-imported beef products from the shelves yesterday, after they were found to contain small amounts of banned drugs a day before during a regular check.

The DOH further promised that local customers will not be able to purchase products that contain the drug Paylean, which promotes leanness in livestock.

Paylean contains ractopamine, one of four animal-use drugs along with salbutamol, terbu-taline and clenbuterol that are banned in Taiwan.

Food and Drug Administration Director-General Kang Chao-chou said yesterday that even though some of the beef that contains the drug may already have been eaten by customers, he reassured the public that it does not pose an immediate threat to one’s health.

“The level of the drug found was between 0.64 to 2.84 ppb (parts per billion), which is way below the daily intake standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO),” he said.

For beef containing 1-2 ppb of ractopamine, a person weighing 60kg would have to eat 30-60 kg of the meat in a day before exceeding safe limits its for daily intake, according to the DOH.

But it was better to inform the public of the matter and have the products removed for the time being, Kang noted, adding that they are still waiting for the results of a second round of checks on the beef in question.

A day earlier, the DOH announced that the leanness drug was detected in three out of 24 imported U.S. beef products sold in supermarkets in northern Taiwan.

It was the first time the banned drug has been detected in U.S. beef since Taiwan re-opened its doors to American beef in 2007, after suspending imports of the meat over mad-cow disease worries.

USTR’s Protest

Taiwan’s decision to have these U.S. beef products remove from the shelves, however, was criticized by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR).

A USTR spokeswoman said yesterday that a total of 26 international organizations, including both the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the WHO, had set standards for residue evaluation of ractopamine in 2004 and 2006 respectively with a maximum level of 10 ppb.