China vows to clean up toxins amid food scares
BEIJING (Reuters) - China will clamp down on foods tainted with illegal and excessive chemicals as it seeks to quell domestic and foreign alarm about toxins in meat, seafood and vegetables, the country's top agriculture official said.
China is battling a torrent of warnings and recalls abroad that have shaken international markets' confidence in the "made in China" label on products ranging from toothpaste and toys to food and tires.
Minister of Agriculture Sun Zhengcai said consumers had no reason to fear eating most of the nation's farm produce, while the nation's quality inspection agency announced comprehensive food export tagging in a bid to reassure customers.
"Judging from monitoring, the acceptability rate of China's agricultural products is higher than it's ever been," he said in an interview published by the official People's Daily on Monday.
The government has responded to the scandals with frequent news conferences and policy announcements -- including the farm minister's vows of stringent controls.
While defending his government's food safety record, Sun promised stiff action against farmers and producers who used banned chemicals to boost yields and profits.
"This crackdown campaign will be no mere formality," Sun said.
Among targeted practices will be use of chloramphenicol, malachite green and other potentially toxic chemicals banned in raising seafood.
The United States said in June it would not allow imports of Chinese farm-raised catfish, shrimp and other seafood unless suppliers proved shipments were free from harmful residues, including malachite green -- a potential carcinogen illegally used to kill fungus and bacteria in fish tanks.
Sun also promised an offensive against banned additives in animal feed and pet food.
Earlier this year, Chinese-made melamine, a chemical used in plastics and fertilizers, surfaced in U.S. pet food, killing animals and prompting wide recalls.
Inspections of pork production would be intensified in an effort to ensure that only pigs that had been properly tagged and checked for disease reached dinner tables, Sun said.
China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine announced that all major food exports produced from September 1 onwards must carry labels to show they have passed inspection.
"The goal is to effectively halt illegal food exports, protect the interests of legitimate exporters, and bolster consumer confidence in the quality and safety of Chinese foods," said the announcement on the agency's Web site (www.aqsiq.gov.cn).
Product recall regulations announced last week also require manufacturers to stop production and sales, notify vendors and customers, and report to authorities when product defects are found, with fines of up to 50,000 yuan ($6,600) for failure to do so.