China ready to shore up food safety


3/11/2008 6:57:00 AM


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With his country facing yet another international crisis over the safety of its food supply, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has promised a tougher regulatory stance, saying Chinese exports will meet or exceed international standards.

"The Chinese government attaches great importance to food safety because it is not only in the interest of the Chinese but also people in the world," Wen said on October 18.

"In the future, our food safety criteria will not only meet the international standard but that of the importer of our products," he added during a press conference held in Beijing, China, at the conclusion of a summit of government leaders from 45 European and Asian countries.

In recent weeks, authorities in a long list of countries have found Chinese dairy products contaminated with excessive levels of the industrial chemical melamine.

According to China's health ministry, adulterated dairy products in domestic infant formula sickened tens of thousand locally, hospitalizing more than 3,500 children and killing at least four.

In reaction, Chinese authorities closed dairy plants, arrested officials, extended health care benefits to affected citizens, stepped up testing and offered new subsidies to the dairy industry to help it cope with the contamination.

Earlier, the government's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection & Quarantine established a new standard on melamine contamination and ordered the testing of all milk products produced after mid-September.

The government in Beijing also promised to strengthen food safety laws, explaining that the dairy products were adulterated with melamine to artificially boost protein levels.

Other governments, particularly in Asia, reacted quickly, with many also boosting testing of imported Chinese dairy ingredients. Some ordered outright import bans.

Then, on the same day Wen promised the new crackdown, Hong Kong authorities said they would step up testing of all egg, poultry, pork, beef, fish and vegetable products entering the territory from mainland China.

The announcement followed the discovery of eggs from China that had excessive levels of melamine.

According to the Associated Press news service, Hong Kong authorities found that eggs produced by China's Dalian Hanwei Enterprise Group had melamine levels of 4.7 parts per million, almost double the territory's legal limit.

The contamination may have been caused by feed adulterated with melamine, government officials in Hong Kong speculated.

Authorities in South Korea had made similar findings earlier.

The Agriculture Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, said on October 22 it found melamine contamination in five egg-based products imported from China, one of which was dried egg powder.

After these discoveries of contaminated eggs, some observers in the region are worried that the problem might well have originated in livestock rations.

That could lead to a much larger problem for China's livestock industry.

Wen told the Beijing press conference that government officials also needed to share responsibility for the recent melamine contamination.

"Not only relevant companies were responsible for the scandal, but the government should also be held responsible for lax supervision," Wen explained.

He said those responsible would be punished. He promised tougher enforcement of new food safety standards.

He promised that the government will advance a new food safety law, which authorities have been drafting since at least last year.

It sets out what can and cannot go into food products and establishes a tighter regulatory regime.

"We will gain the trust of the Chinese and people in the world via our behaviors and quality of our products," Wen said.

On October 23, China's National People's Congress resumed its review of the new draft food safety law, government-controlled media in Beijing reported.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, the new law will set compulsory food safety standards and "ban all chemicals and materials other than authorized additives" in food products. Companies will be able to use only "safe and necessary" ingredients approved by health authorities.

Companies that violate the law could be closed and lose their operating license.

Food safety inspectors will not be able to exempt some companies from complying with the new law as they have in the past, the reports noted.

Inspections are supposed to be automatic as soon as complaints are made.

"No organizations, institutions or individuals should cover up, lie about or delay reporting food safety incidents. Destroying evidence is strictly forbidden," the news agency quoted the draft law as saying.

It is not clear when the new law and stringent enforcement regime will be in place.

It is also unclear how the law will affect imported agricultural products, although it seems only logical that they will likely face a new, more stringent testing regime.

Feedstuffs, USA




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