China Says Food Safety Has Improved, But Concedes that Standards in that Country Still Lag

China has taken steps to improve <"">food safety after a series of scandals raised questions about the safety of its imports, but it has a long way to go.  China defended its fish farming industry on Tuesday, saying it was making progress in curbing use of illegal additives—from pesticides to banned steroids—following scares over the safety of its food and manufactured products in the last year.  Reviews have highlighted shoddy oversight and prompted a wave of new regulations and clean-up campaigns from China’s central government.  Vice Minister of Agriculture Gao Hongbin said the country has made encouraging progress.   “However, regulation of quality and safety of agricultural products is still faced with arduous challenges due to a number of factors,” he said.  “There is still a gap between China’s standards and that in other countries.”

According to a survey published in the official China Food Quality News, nearly two-thirds of all Chinese are worried about food safety, while one-fifth have no confidence in China’s drinking water.  Gao said the government has curbed the use of highly toxic pesticides in vegetable production and was making progress in stamping out the use of clenbuterol, a steroid used in pork production, which is illegal there.  He also said the compliance rate for the use of three toxins used in fish production—including malachite green, a potential carcinogen illegally used to kill fungus and bacteria in fish tanks—was rising, and defended China’s fish farming against a New York Times piece entitled “Fishing in Toxic Waters.”  “It is a question of common sense.  Do you believe that fish can live in toxic water?” Gao asked. “Personally, I believe that this report is sensational and misleading.”

But last June, the United States said it would not allow imports of Chinese farm-raised catfish, shrimp, and other seafood unless suppliers could prove shipments were free from harmful residues, including malachite green.  Gao said 98 percent of China’s aquatic products exports met these standards.  China is also seeking to ensure the millions of athletes, spectators, and journalists planning to attend the Olympic games this August in Beijing that its food will be of the highest quality.  Gao also said the Ministry of Agriculture was working with Olympic organizers to ensure food safety during the games.  “With regard to where the food will come from, undoubtedly it will come from China,” Gao said, but added: “I will not rule out the possibility that some food could be imported from abroad.”

The US Food and Drug Administration imposed restrictions several months ago on Chinese fish when banned antibiotics turned up in import shipments.  Under a new agreement—allowing U.S. inspectors access to Chinese factories and ensuring Chinese manufacturers continued access to the U.S. market—Chinese exporters will register with the Chinese government and agree to annual inspections by China’s office of General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine.  Enforcement is at the discretion of the Chinese.  Last month, Chinese officials seized thousands of tainted products, put many unregulated shops and eateries out of business, shut 192,400 unlicensed food producers, and pulled 29,800 products from shelves; 100% of stores in larger towns and cities now have a quality-label system in place allowing them to trace products back to suppliers.

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