China should not be singled out for particular concern over food safety, a major problem that rich and poor countries alike must tackle through better regulation, top World Health Organization (WHO) officials have said.
Margaret Chan, WHO director-general, said the United Nations agency receives about 200 reports of tainted food products each month from its 193 member states.
But many food-borne diseases go unreported and outbreaks of salmonella or E. coli bacteria can take on massive proportions according to the WHO, which backs "farm to fork" food safety.
"I have to say that food safety is a big problem for both developed and developing countries," Chan told a news briefing on Tuesday, adding that the WHO was working with countries to strengthen their regulatory frameworks.
A number of food safety problems have been reported in China and have raised overseas concerns over the country's food safety.
But Jorgen Schlundt, director of the WHO's department of food safety, said China has been seriously addressing shortcomings since 2001 and is starting to implement some of the WHO's suggestions.
"They are working on it. There is a high-level political commitment to do something about it," Schlundt said, stressing that food safety is an issue in all countries. "We are not expressing any concern especially about China."
"China has realized some time ago the need for updating its food safety system. It takes a long time to update a system, not only for China. After the BSE crisis, it took the UK a long time," he added.
BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease, is a fatal brain disease in cattle that emerged in Britain in 1986 and can cause the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.
The WHO issues about 10 to 20 "emergency notifications" each year, signaling a potential international public health problem linked to food, according to Schlundt.
Most relate to problems in industrialized countries, which have better systems for reporting disease outbreaks, and the figures do not indicate the true extent of problems elsewhere, he said.
(China Daily July 19, 2007)