China Beefs Up Food Safety Rules

BEIJING, China, July 26, 2007 (ENS) - The Chinese government says it is strengthening its food safety regulations after discoveries of tainted food and toothpaste have resulted in bans of Chinese products in many countries.

Addressing a conference of the State Council on Wednesday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the issue of product quality and food safety is "closely linked with people's lives, producers' reputations and the nation's image," according to the official state news agency Xinhua.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (Photo courtesy Office of the Premier)
"The nation must establish a rigorous network to realize effective supervision over processing, packaging, delivering and sale of products and step up the establishment of national standard systems to tally with international standards," Wen said.

The conference approved a draft special regulation on the supervision of food safety which requires intensified controls over food producers and distributors, increased responsibilities and obligations on the part of the government and more serious punishment for illegal activities.

The draft would be amended and later formally published by the State Council, China's highest executive and administrative body.

Wen also said China would publicize periodic reports on product information and recall defective products.

Honey from China (Photo courtesy Government of China)
Meanwhile, China would strengthen cooperation with foreign countries in handling the issue and improve law enforcement on product quality problems, he said, adding that the State Council will form a product quality and food safety group to help resolve disputes.

Recent bans on products from China include a U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, prohibition earlier this month on 30 brands of toothpaste from six manufacturers that were found to contain diethylene glycol, a poisonous chemical used in antifreeze.

The agency is warning consumers to avoid using tubes of toothpaste labeled as made in China and, through an import alert, is stopping all suspect toothpaste from entering the United States.

In June, the United States began detaining all farm-raised catfish, basa, shrimp, dace and eel from China at the border until the shipments are proven free of residues from drugs not approved for use in U.S. fish farms.

An international melamine scare started March 16 when Ontario-based pet food maker Menu Foods recalled hundreds of its wet food products following a rash of animal sickness and deaths. The pet foods were found to be contaminated with melamine, an industrial plastic.

In April, China's quality control watchdog said two Chinese companies exported melamine-contaminated products. The managers from both companies were arrested, but the contaminant was later found in fish feed used in aquaculture.

Manufactured snacks from China have been tested for contaminants. (Photo courtesy Government of China)
In Europe, a ban imposed on Chinese honey earlier this year has cost China billions of dollars in trade and Chinese officials say it is harming the economy of rural areas that rely on international sales of their products.

European Union inspectors concerned about the use of antibiotics and hormone growth promoters in Chinese food products recommended the ban.

Last week, the Philippines' Bureau of Foods and Drugs banned the distribution and sale of four Chinese food products, including candies and biscuits when tests revealed harmful substances, such as formaldehyde in the foods.

The agency began testing foods after China shut down 180 food factories found to have breached food safety regulations by mixing formaldehyde into products.

In June, the Chinese government required the food factory closures after inspectors found industrial chemicals in products ranging from sweets to seafood, state media said.

The closures came during a crackdown on shoddy and dangerous products, the state-run "China Daily" newspaper reported. Formaldehyde, illegal dyes and industrial wax had been found in sweets, pickles, crackers and seafood.

"These are not isolated cases," Han Yi, of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine told the newspaper.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.