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US Food Watchdog Targets All Countries
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China is not the primary target of a US watchdog set up on Wednesday to scrutinize the quality of imports, the White House has said.

US President George W. Bush announced the formation of a Cabinet-level panel to recommend steps to better guarantee the safety of food and other products imported into the US.

The White House said the effort was not targeted mainly at China, the source of a variety of imports that has put Beijing and Washington at loggerheads over food quality.

"This is not a slap at China," White House spokesman Tony Snow said earlier when asked if he thought China would be offended by Bush's action.

"This is in fact a normal piece of business. We get food imports from 150 countries around the world. It's important to monitor them all."

The new panel will submit its recommendations to the president in 60 days and is headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt.

Bush said the administration will work with countries that export food products to the US, as well as firms that import them.

The Chinese government has so far not commented on the development. But the Foreign Ministry has repeatedly said that China has been addressing the food safety issue seriously and is willing to work with other countries to redress any grievances.

Analysts say food safety is a common challenge facing the international community, and it must tackle it through better regulation. They suggest every country treat the imports fairly regardless of their origin.

Director of Fudan University's American Studies Shen Dingli called the US decision a necessity for ensuring consumer safety. Every government has the responsibility of devising and improving procedures and practices to ensure the safety of consumer products.

Shen said the higher benchmark for food products to be exported to the US will compel other countries to attach greater importance to food safety.

General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) figures show that over the past two years, 99 percent of food exports to the US met safety standards.

China announced on Wednesday that Beijing and Washington will meet at the end of the month to discuss a US ban on Chinese seafood exports and the setting up of a cooperation mechanism on food safety.

European Commissioner for Consumer Protection Meglena Kuneva will visit China next week for food safety talks with officials, including those from AQSIQ and the State Administration of Industry and Commerce.

(China Daily via agencies July 20, 2007)

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