U.S. food recalls of Chinese imports have threatened that country’s economy, and it seems the government is China is finally taking problems with food manufacturing seriously. China’s four-month food safety campaign managed to hit its targets early, with officials seizing thousands of tainted products and putting many unregulated shops and eateries out of business. Scandals involving substandard food, drugs, and other goods are reported by Chinese media almost daily and have flooded the international spotlight since tainted additives exported from China contaminated pet food in the U.S.: Chinese plants produced and exported wheat gluten laced with melamine, a compound used to make plastic, for use in pet food. The sweep netted 1.25 million kgs. (2.76 million lbs.) of substandard food and 945 tons of pork which had been slaughtered illegally or came from pigs which had died of disease, the Communist Party’s People’s Daily reported. Inspectors shut 192,400 unlicensed food producers and pulled 29,800 products from the shelves and 100% of stores in larger towns and cities now have a quality-label system in place allowing them to trace products back to suppliers.
“The State Council’s determined aim of putting in place the ‘two 100 percents’ and ‘a thorough resolution’ for food safety by the end of the year has been achieved early,” the newspaper said. Worries about the made-in-China mark have provoked anger in the U.S. and Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said he would ban all Chinese-made toys if elected. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang stressed that the vast majority of Chinese goods were safe. “Not all U.S. goods are up to standard. Does that mean we can use it as an excuse to ban all U.S. products? I think that is not objective, not rational, and not fair.” China has acknowledged problems, and insists it is cracking down. But it has also accused the foreign media of hyping up the issue with hysterical reporting.
Millions of toys made in China have been recalled this year mainly because of excessive lead paint levels. And, food safety issues are of particular concern in China’s vast countryside where oversight of the many small factories has contributed to a string of food poisoning incidents. Most recently, four children died after eating a dried-noodle snack and at least 13 babies died of malnutrition in 2004 after being fed fake milk powder.
Last week China’s food and drug safety agency revoked the license of a company responsible for making tainted leukemia drugs that caused leg pains and partial paralysis in dozens of patients. According to the agency, Shanghai Hualian executives were detained by police on suspicion they deliberately withheld information about production standard violations; the investigation was one of many involving contaminated or bogus drugs and foods.
The US Food and Drug Administration imposed restrictions several months ago on some Chinese fish, including shrimp, 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 will be at the discretion of the Chinese.