- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007

China specialists are not convinced new steps taken by the country in response to international concerns over tainted food and drug exports will allay those concerns.

China has drawn intense international attention in recent weeks after a series of problems involving toxins in products from pet food to toothpaste.

The country’s former top drug regulator has been sentenced to death on charges of negligence and corruption, and the government announced plans Tuesday for its first recall system for unsafe products.

China plans to introduce new rules requiring food companies to take back products found to pose a health risk, the China Daily newspaper said Tuesday. The new rules would be introduced by the end of the year.

The Chinese newspaper also reported that the State Food and Drug Administration plans to blacklist food producers that break rules, barring serious violators from the market.

Chris Waldrop, director of the Consumer Federation of America’s Food Policy Institute said the recall move is a positive step but said that it will take time to put into place.

He also raised questions about whether the recall would be mandatory.

Mr. Waldrop said China has numerous agencies overseeing its food system, so there are questions about how coordinated its approach is.

He also said China needs to modernize its food-safety laws, making a point that also has been made by the 67-member Asian Development Bank, which provides loans and assistance aimed at cutting poverty in Asia and the Pacific.

“This food-recall system might be the first step in doing that, but it can’t be the only step,” he said.

“I would think they would want to modernize the entire law to get it up to speed,” he said.

Georgetown University Law Center professor James V. Feinerman, a specialist in Chinese and Asian law, struck a similar note, saying that the recall announcement might have some effect, but adding that he was somewhat skeptical because there is not a serious enforcement process in China.

Chinese authorities, he said, will “make a few feints, as though they’re going to really do something, but they don’t have a process established to be able to effectively monitor a recall.”

Grant D. Aldonas, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former undersecretary of commerce for international trade, said he was not certain the steps would improve food safety.

China, he said, is trying to respond to international concerns, but he said the Chinese government’s ability to affect local events is somewhat limited.

China has announced previous food-safety crackdowns, most notably in 2004 when 13 babies died and hundreds suffered from malnutrition after being fed baby formula that contained no nutrients.

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