June 19, 2007 / 2:10 PM / 11 years ago

China says quality of farm products improving

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese farm products are getting safer, the government said on Tuesday, citing tests of fruit, vegetables, meat and fish in major cities that showed more than 95 percent of products were up to standard.

The Ministry of Agriculture, eager to reassure consumers following a series of safety scandals, said on its Web site (www.agri.gov.cn) that all meat and poultry products tested in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenyang, Tianjin and Kunming were up to scratch.

“The proportion of vegetables tested which were up to standard when it came to farm chemical residues in 37 cities was the highest in recent years,” it said in a statement.

“The general quality of agricultural products in our country keeps getting higher,” it added.

But there were still a few problems. Malachite green, a cancer-causing chemical used by fish farmers to kill parasites, was found in some samples, as were nitrofurans, an antibiotic also linked to cancer, the ministry said.

The ministry this year will strengthen quality and safety controls over farm products and push for standardization in the farm sector, it added.

Fresh scandals involving substandard food and medicines are reported by Chinese media almost every day, and the issue has burst into the international spotlight since tainted additives exported from China contaminated pet food in North America.

“At present, food safety problems have received the world’s attention,” Wei Chuanzhong, deputy head of China’s quality inspection bureau, was quoted as saying on its Web site (www.aqsiq.gov.cn).

“We pay the highest level of attention to food safety,” he said during a visit to inspection facilities in Shanghai.

The scandals keep occurring, however.

State media said that health authorities had seized more than two tonnes of expired sticky rice dumplings, a special treat for the annual Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on Tuesday.

A company in central Anhui province had repackaged the dumplings, made two years ago, and sold them as new, Xinhua news agency said.

“Some of the rice inside was rotting and giving off a bad smell,” Xinhua said.

Last year, some manufacturers were found to have used copper-based chemicals to preserve the green color of leaves used to wrap dumplings, with the worst cases containing 34 times more copper than allowed by national safety standards.

Public fears about food safety grew in China in 2004 when at least 13 babies died of malnutrition in Anhui after they were fed fake milk powder with no nutritional value.

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