10/23/2008, 00.00
CHINA
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WHO: food safety in China "old-fashioned, chaotic, inefficient"

Harsh criticism from the World Health Organization against food safety in China, called completely insufficient. Testing still turns up products with excessive quantities of melamine.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - "We see that a disjointed system with dispersed authority between different ministries and agencies resulted in poor communication and maybe prolonged [the] outbreak with a late response." Jorgen Schlundt, the World Health Organization's food safety chief, has harshly criticized China's food safety mechanisms during a press conference held yesterday in Beijing on how the country has managed its contaminated milk scandal.

Anthony Hazzard, the WHO's regional adviser on food safety, is even more critical. "Overseas governments and consumers have to be confident that when a product is certified as safe from China's authorities, that it is safe."

Powdered milk from leading Chinese companies has been found to contain a high quantity of melamine, a substance used to produce plastic, enough to cause serious kidney damage in more than 53,000 newborns. Four of them have died, and more than 5,800 were still hospitalized as of a few days ago. The WHO says that all of this could have been avoided with greater attention and more safeguards. For this reason, Hazzard reiterates that "there is too much ambiguity among the different bodies with roles in food safety": an ambiguity that blocks tight supervision.

Meanwhile, in recent days the substance has been found in South Korea, in egg powder and other egg-based ingredients from China. These ingredients are used extensively in the dessert industry, raising concerns that the substance could also be found in products not made in China, but containing Chinese ingredients. Like Julie’s Wheat Crackers, made in Malaysia with Chinese ingredients found to contain high quantities of melamine.

The center for food safety has found excessive quantities of melamine in Mai-lai cakes at a Chinese restaurant in the Siu Sai Wan commercial district in Hong Kong, part of the Maxim fast food chain, the most popular in the territory. The product was immediately removed from the menu, and its ingredients are being analyzed. Clarifications are being issued that the quantity of melamine found does not pose a serious health threat.

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