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Food safety mission 'complete'
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A four-month national campaign to improve the quality of agriculture products has yielded encouraging results, but challenges remain, a senior official said yesterday.


Speaking at a press conference organized by the State Council Information Office, Agriculture Vice-Minister Gao Hongbin said: "We have successfully completed our mission to improve quality and safety."


The government launched a campaign in August to crack down on substandard consumer products and improve food safety in the wake of a number of complaints from the domestic and foreign markets.


"But maintaining the quality and safety of agricultural products will be an arduous task," Gao said.


He said uneven regional development and the poor management of agricultural production remain the biggest problems in ensuring product quality.


"Managing 220 million farming families is a lot more difficult than managing say 500 large farms," Gao said.


"As a result, trying to improve the quality of China's agri-products will be a major challenge, and not something that can be achieved with a single campaign."


The government plans to strengthen product inspection procedures and promote the standardization of agricultural practices in order to establish standards that meet the needs of consumers as well as international requirements within three to five years, Gao said.


"Our ultimate goal is to ensure that the food Chinese people eat is safe," he said.


Meanwhile, special attention will be paid at this summer's Beijing Olympics to ensure there is a sufficient supply of high quality food that is rich in variety and safe to eat, Gao said.


He said that although the safety campaign is designed to benefit ordinary Chinese citizens, not just athletes, the Olympics will be a way to highlight the need to "ensure the sustained improvement of the quality and safety of agricultural products in the Chinese nation".


Gao also said the government will work to stabilize prices by stepping up production and increasing the supply of staples, such as pork and oil.


The prices of the country's major foodstuffs, including grain, pork and cooking oil, surged last year, lifting the consumer price index to an 11-year high of 6.9 percent in November, well above the government's 3 percent target.


Gao said the increases were due to soaring global grain prices, increased labor costs and the fact that due to urbanization, China now has fewer farmers.


"The government will strive to bring the price hikes under control ... by expanding (farm) production to ensure a steady supply," Gao said.


He said that the agriculture ministry had set an output target of more than 1 trillion tons this year "to ensure no agricultural products are ever out of stock".


The government has also introduced a series of incentives for farmers to boost production and higher allowances for poor city dwellers to lessen the effect of rising prices.


Agencies contributed to the story


(China Daily January 9, 2008)

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