- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2007

China“s second-ranking diplomat in Washington yesterday rejected criticism of his country over tainted toothpaste and other questionable food and drug exports but said his government is taking a series of corrective measures.

Some people are trying to politicize the issue, Chinese Embassy Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission Zheng Zeguang told The Washington Times.

The issue has been building in recent weeks as the U.S. and other countries have taken action after the discovery of tainted or substandard food and drug imports from China. At least 16 pet deaths have been caused by pet food contaminated with the chemical melamine. And the Food and Drug Administration earlier this month warned consumers not to use toothpaste from China after finding tubes tainted with a poisonous chemical used in antifreeze and brake fluid.

Other developments over problems with Chinese exports include:

c Bans on Chinese catfish by Alabama and Mississippi because of high levels of antibiotics.

c A California firm”s recall of Chinese “monkfish” that may have been puffer fish containing the toxin tetrodotoxin.

c Actions by foreign countries, including Singapore, which recently banned three types of Chinese toothpaste.

Mr. Zheng said “certain isolated cases” should not be “blown out of proportion” to mislead the American public into thinking that all food and drugs from China are unsafe, which he said is not the case.

His comments come after several House Energy and Commerce Committee members said the Bush administration should consider banning food imports from China if the Food and Drug Administration cannot ensure their safety.

China, he said, attaches great importance to the safety of its pharmaceutical and food products and has a strict regime in place to monitor exports.

The country has a series of laws and regulations aimed at ensuring food safety, and Beijing earlier this month released food and drug safety goals for the next five years, including stronger surveillance and export controls. It also plans new rules this year requiring food companies to recall products that pose a health risk.

In the pet food case, Mr. Zheng said, that the melamine incident was caused by two small enterprises and that legal action has been started against them. At the same time, though, he said, the companies did not have the required export certificates issued by the Chinese government for food and drug exports. U.S. importers did not have to ask for those certificates, he said.

Steps that China is taking include 100 percent inspection of food being sent to the United States before being exported, increased random inspections of toothpaste exports, plans to take immediate and timely action in response to FDA information and establishment of a blacklist of companies exporting unsafe products.

Mr. Zheng’s comments came the same daythat Chinese officials in Beijing played down international concerns about tainted food exports, saying the problems were not as bad as reported. They displayed seized counterfeit products to show that authorities are enforcing safety protections.

The government took more than 100 foreign and domestic reporters to a food-safety laboratory and storehouse where bogus goods — from chewing gum to soy sauce — were stacked on shelves and arrayed in rows.

“Yes, there are now some problems of food safety of Chinese products. However, they are not serious. We should not exaggerate those problems,” Li Dongsheng, vice minister for the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, told reporters at the lab. China has developed “very good, very complete methods” to regulate product safety, Mr. Li said.

“We are very concerned about food safety in China and very concerned about protecting the rights of consumers,” Mr. Li said. “But we do not want to cause panic among the people.”

Mr. Li, whose agency oversees domestic product quality, insisted that China was taking the issue seriously.

“There is now largely no problem with food safety. It is an issue the people care about greatly,” Mr. Li said. “So if there is a small problem, it becomes a big problem for us. So basically for now, we can guarantee food safety.”

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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