- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2007

From combined dispatches

China needs better controls on the safety of food it exports, U.S. officials told their Chinese counterparts as economic talks began in Washington.

The issue was raised at a general session on trade and the economy and pursued in a smaller group by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt, U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab said yesterday.

American inquiries about the safety of food that China exports developed after at least 16 dogs and cats died from eating pet food contaminated with melamine, a chemical used to make plastic. The poisoning was traced to food additives from China that later were found in feed for U.S. hogs, fish and chickens.

The U.S. buys about $2.2 billion annually in agricultural products from China, according to U.S. lawmakers.

“Food safety is a big issue wherever we’re receiving food from, whether it’s China or some other part of the world,” Mr. Johanns told reporters. “I can almost guarantee that when they go to the Hill, people on the Hill will want to talk to them” about keeping products safe.

China announced plans to strengthen domestic food safety yesterday, while a European Union official said Beijing faces a global challenge to maintain confidence in its products following this series of health scares.

China’s State Food and Drug Administration would take seven steps to enhance food safety, including expanded inspections and monitoring, and keeping files on the reliability of companies, with a “blacklist” of violators, the agency announced on its Web site (www.sfda.gov.cn).

“There will be incentives for excellence and punishment for the substandard, and those that seriously violate trust will be resolutely thrown out and rejected,” it said.

Officials also would strengthen emergency plans. “When a major food safety incident occurs, reporting must be swift, the response rapid, and controls vigorous,” the agency said.

The European Commission’s director-general for health and consumer protection, Robert Madelin, said yesterday that China needed to be more candid to sustain confidence in its exports.

“The challenge for China is to maintain global confidence in its products, and the way to do that is for the regulatory authorities to be very open and very cooperative,” he said during a news conference in Beijing.

A Chinese-made medicine ingredient also killed at least 100 persons in Panama, according to a report in the New York Times.

China’s Foreign Ministry repeated the government’s line that the country takes food and drug safety seriously.

“In recent years, the government has done a fair bit of work on this, and has gradually set up a comprehensive legal system,” spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, adding investigations were continuing into “some cases.”

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