The Council of Agriculture (COA) yesterday proposed imposing heavier penalties for animal smuggling after the agency on Saturday euthanized 154 valuable cats illegally imported from China on a Taiwanese fishing boat on Friday.
The killing of the smuggled cats, which occurred on the same day as International Homeless Animals Day, sparked an outcry.
COA Minister Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) yesterday at a news conference in Taipei defended the council’s decision, saying that the agency had no choice but to put down the animals.
Photo courtesy of the Coast Guard Administration
“Even after quarantine, these cats could still carry ... diseases due to the long latency periods of viruses, which could pose a major threat to pets and farm animals in Taiwan,” Chen said.
He said that many animal lovers might find the council’s decision hard to accept, but the veterinarians who were ordered to put down the cats were the saddest of all.
Council officials were also torn between reason and emotion, he added.
“As one who is responsible for animal and plant quarantine affairs, I made the final decision ... because it simply had to be done. If there are criticisms about the way the council handled this matter, let them be directed at me rather than ground-level workers at the council,” Chen said.
These cats were smuggled from China, a high-risk nation for rabies, Chen said, adding that the fatality rate for people who are bitten by an animal with rabies is 100 percent once the infection has taken hold.
To curb animal smuggling, Chen said that the council would work with the Ministry of Justice to amend the Smuggling Penalty Act (懲治走私條例) to allow prison sentences for animal smugglers of more than seven years, which is currently the maximum sentence.
The council would also amend the Animal Protection Act (動物保護法), which imposes a fine of NT$100,000 to NT$3 million (US$3,570 to US$107,112) on unlicensed animal vendors or those selling animals from unknown sources.
Once the act is amended, the starting fine would be NT$3 million, he said.
The boat that helped smuggle cats into Taiwan has been permanently banned from conducting fishing business, Chen said.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) condemned smugglers on Facebook, saying that she supported the council’s decision to amend the laws, to ensure that smuggled animals are treated more humanely.
In related news, the COA’s African Swine Fever Disaster Response Center yesterday reported the first case of African swine fever found in smuggled meat products.
The virus was discovered in a 71.79kg shipment of meat imported from Vietnam by a local distributor using a courier service, it said.
The center is investigating whether any infected meat has made its way into local markets, and would destroy it if found, it said.
Pork accounted for 60.28kg of the smuggled shipment, chicken products made up 5.81kg and beef products 5.7kg, Chen said.
The shipment also included a 15.74kg parcel of onions, he said, adding that the entire shipment was destroyed.
“This was the first time in the three years since an African swine fever outbreak occurred in the region that we have intercepted a smuggled shipment containing traces of the virus,” he said.
As this was not the first shipment of processed meat products from Vietnam to be smuggled into Taiwan, officials were tracing the source of all products sold in markets and testing those currently on shelves, he said.
Meanwhile, the Customs Administration said it has confiscated more than 200kg of meat products over the past two weeks, mostly comprised of mooncakes with meat filling and sausages.
Additional reporting by CNA
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