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China Vows to Improve Food Safety in Wake of Health Scares

China has shut down companies involved in some of the highest-profile health scares involving Chinese-made goods and will take further steps to improve product safety, a top official said Friday.

"The Chinese government is moving to address the fundamental problems behind issues relating to food product safety," Li Changjiang, the minister in charge of the country's top product safety agency told a news conference.

Li said the agency had closed two companies involved in the recent case of toxic dog and cat food that killed pets in the United States, and another firm blamed for exporting a toxin later used in toothpaste.

The announcements come as China faces increasing foreign pressure over the quality of its exports, with US President George W. Bush this week announcing stepped-up efforts to intercept dangerous imports.

Bush did not single out China, but the country's export image has been severely tarnished in recent months by regular reports of shoddy or dangerous Chinese-made goods.

Li vowed China would overhaul its inspection and supervision systems.

"China takes seriously issues related to food product safety and is conducting full studies into the establishment of effective supervision methods," said Li, who heads the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

"I believe this will lead to the enhancement of supervision."

Li said China has shut down two companies in eastern China blamed for adding the dangerous chemical melamine to protein products later used in pet food for US and Canadian markets.

The companies used administrative loopholes to dodge inspections, Li said.

Also shut down was a factory in eastern China that produced diethylene glycol, an ingredient normally used in anti-freeze.

The company mislabeled the product as the sweetener glycerin. It was later used in too thpaste sold overseas.

Li warned that China faces a huge challenged policing smaller operations such as these.

"There are many of them scattered over a large geographical area, they have poor production conditions, and the quality of their products is not stable and even substandard," he said.

Li, who recently condemned a US ban on several types of Chinese seafood products as "unacceptable", admitted on Friday that the products had indeed been pumped with banned antiobiotics.

He said the products -- shrimp, dace, basa, catfish and eel -- were produced by unregistered fish farms.

However, he repeated China's position that foreign media were sowing panic by covering the food product scares.

"Most reports have been factual, but some fail to present the full story," he said.

In a sign of the growing foreing concern, top Japanese government officials and business leaders were to hold an emergency meeting Friday on import safety.

China is Japan's second-largest supplier of food after the United States.

To safeguard export quality, China plans to increase communications with trading partners, Li said.


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