- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2007

China’s Asian neighbors are raising concerns about the safety of food from China, taking actions including increased inspections and banning imports from the country.

In Hong Kong, which, as a “special administrative region” is substantially autonomous from China, hen-egg imports were temporarily suspended last year. Officials had become concerned that potentially cancer-causing Sudan dyes — synthetic chemical dyes used for coloring hydrocarbon solvents, oils, fats, waxes and plastics — were used in Chinese poultry feed to enhance yolk color.

Imports of freshwater fish and turbot were suspended because of contamination with malachite green, a potentially cancer-causing chemical used in aquaculture as an antifungal agent.

After a bird-flu case was found in the nearby Chinese city of Shenzhen, imports of live poultry, day-old chicks and pet birds were suspended for 21 days.

Japan inspects 40 types of food from China, more than imports from any other country.

And the 67-member Asian Development Bank, which provides loans and assistance aimed at reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific, cited “an urgent need to address numerous problems” in China’s food-safety-management system in a report issued last year and revised in January.

Food and other products from China have come under scrutiny in the U.S. and elsewhere after a series of problems, including the deaths of at least 16 dogs and cats from pet food tainted with the chemical melamine. The Food and Drug Administration said last week that it was stopping all imports of toothpaste from China to test for a deadly chemical found in Chinese toothpaste sold to other countries.

The Hong Kong permanent secretary for health, welfare and food, Carrie Yau, earlier this month visited mainland China to discuss food-safety issues.

Hong Kong is working with the Chinese government to improve the food-regulation system, Mrs. Yau said. That includes “widening the scope of imported food that need to be accompanied with health certificates, putting more categories of food under regulation and control, as well as opening up new modes of food tests.”

The two sides have agreed to include tougher controls over the sources of vegetables bound for Hong Kong and Macao, additional controls on live freshwater fish exported to Hong Kong and the requirement that mainland eggs be accompanied by health certificates.

Hong Kong officials also are drafting legislation to strengthen controls on food imports.

Daniel McAtee, a spokesman for the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Washington, stressed that the moves are cooperative, not adversarial.

The Asian Development Bank’s report said China lacks a basic food law and must establish guidelines to supervise food safety.

The report said coordination within the government is lacking and said the number of agencies involved in food safety has led to numerous separate policies and activities.

It did say that China has put substantial effort into supervision of food safety in the past three years, evaluating food-safety performance in provincial capitals, developing systems to distribute food-safety information and preparing emergency-response plans.

But in the case of Sudan red dye, for example, the report said departments conducted multiple tests under varying rules and published inconsistent statements about the substance’s health risk.

The report also called for efforts to reduce not only gaps in enforcement, but also duplication, including repeated inspections of retailers, often every few days and “which, in some cases, appears to be motivated for reasons other than public health.”

Such inspections provide little benefit to public health, the report said, adding that when a problem is found, although the retailer is fined, “often no action is taken to correct the problem at the production stage.”

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