BEIJING China risks damaging its global credibility and provoking social instability if it does not tackle its food and drug quality problems, an official said in a rare admission amid a series of scares over tainted products.
China's safety failings have drawn world attention since mislabeled chemical exports were found in cough syrup in Panama and pet food in the United States. There have been a series of recalls and bans on items ranging from toys to toothpaste.
In one of the most recent, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it would not allow imports of Chinese farm-raised seafood unless suppliers could prove the shipments held no harmful residues.
"The food security problems have impeded Chinese agri-products and food many times in international trade, and damaged our national credibility and image," Sun Xianze, director of food safety coordination at the State Food and Drug Administration, said at a weekend seminar.
"The occurrence of food safety incidents or cases not only affects the healthy development of the whole industry, but also may impact upon economic and social stability," Sun was quoted as saying by state media.
Dealing with these problems was being hampered by indolent and irresponsible officials and companies, admitted administration head Shao Mingli in a statement on its Web site (www.sda.gov.cn).
"In some regions, rectification work is carried out without energy and the quality of work does not come up to standard: it is perfunctory and sluggish," he was quoted as telling the meeting.
"Some drug production and sale companies put their faith in luck, hesitate and take a wait-and-see attitude and are slack in their work."
The watchdog revoked the production licenses of five drug manufacturers in the last year and withdrew good manufacturing practice certificates from 128 others, the China Daily added.
The companies shut down included Qiqihar No. 2 Pharmaceutical Co., following the deaths of 11 people after they took a drug it manufactured.
The government was intensifying inspections to weed out substandard drugs, the People's Daily added, as "many thousands" had to be re-licensed this year.
"We cannot let fraudulently obtained licenses get re-registered and be cloaked in the coat of legality," it said.
In the last year, the regulator rejected 1,437 license applications for not complying with "technical requirements", said the newspaper, the Communist Party's mouthpiece.
"The phenomenon of fake information in applications has been brought under effective control," the report added.
China has been meting out stern treatment to officials implicated in drug safety scandals. Former drug watchdog chief Zheng Xiaoyu was sentenced to death for taking bribes in May.
Eighty-three people have died in Panama after taking medicines contaminated with a Chinese-made toxin last year and the death toll is expected to rise, a senior Panama prosecutor said on Thursday.
China was the source of almost a third of the 761 consignments of foodstuffs imported to Japan that were found to contain more than the permitted amount of pesticide or other chemical residues in the past year, the Asahi newspaper reported on Monday.
(Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby and Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo)