07/20/2007, 00.00
CHINA – UNITED STATES
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Beijing using diplomacy, greater controls and swift punishment to re-conquer US market

China intervenes to repair image disaster following tainted food scandals. Faulted companies are shut down; officials are arrested. Beijing and Washington are set to discuss new steps to solve the problem.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Beijing claims that its products are safe and that the few dishonest companies have been dealt harshly by the law as officials from the two countries prepare to meet in a few days to discuss food safety.

Li Changjiang, director of the State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said three companies were shut down; two made dog and cat food and one manufactured a medication that killed hundreds of people in Panama. Several officials from all the companies were arrested.

The dog and cat food makers in Jiangsu Province and another in Shandong Province had together exported more than 1,300 tons of contaminated wheat protein to the US.

In a statement the Chinese Embassy in the United States hit back at US food complaints, saying that the alarm about adulterated food was vastly exaggerated, that Chinese products exported to the US were safe 99 per cent and more of the time, and that Chinese authorities had taken additional steps to enforce better quality controls.

The United States also took several steps to protect imports, including a new Working Group on Import Safety established Wednesday by President George W Bush, which the administration took pains to explain was not meant to target China.

Previously, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) had banned certain Chinese imports like catfish as well as shrimp and eel.

At the same time, Beijing has imposed a suspension on some US meat imports.

The scandal broke out early this year when dogs and cats began dying after eating pet food made with ingredients tainted with melamine, a chemical usually used in the production of plastics whose composition is similar to protein (and so can trick quality control checks).

In quick succession came stories of toxic fish, juice containing unsafe colour additives and popular toy trains decorated with leaded paint.

In Central America and elsewhere toothpaste was found tainted with chemical diethylene glycol, which is used in refrigeration.

Beijing has come in for tongue-lashing after it initially tried to deny responsibility until the evidence in the adulteration cases became overwhelming.

The real issue though is what rules can be adopted to protect against possible control failures in exporting countries.

At the end of the month five meetings are scheduled between US FDA officials and their Chinese counterparts to discuss the problem.

The United States is China’s second largest foreign market after Japan.

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