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Food Safety Reality
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Food safety problems in China have been blown out of proportion.

Last week, the Beijing Telvision Station released "secretly photographed" footage showing people making baozi, steamed buns stuffed with 60 per cent cardboard. On Thursday, the report was declared a sham.

It is good to know we were deceived.

We share the concerns of Li Changjiang, director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, when he argues that problems involving Chinese foods are not being seen as what they are.

Considering the country's enormous food exports, problematic products account for a negligible amount. According to the national quality watchdog, 99.1 per cent of Chinese food exports to the United States in the first half of the year were up to standard, the same figure for American food exports to China being 99.3 per cent.

The recent media frenzy about contaminated Chinese exports has greatly tarnished the overall image of the "made in China" label. But it is to some extent understandable, because we - whether Chinese or American - all care about what we eat.

We appreciate the general administration's attempt to communicate and cooperate more closely with destination countries. But reparatory efforts must not be confined to crisis management. To build sustainable confidence in our exports, there is an imperative need to thoroughly review our criteria and regulatory mechanisms.

Li told the press we have a complete set of rules and mechanisms to guarantee quality. We do have a lot of people and offices assigned to take care of food safety. But obviously there are holes to plug.

We do not worry about more rigorous quality control for exports. Although Li denied double standards for exports and domestic consumption, he told the press on Thursday that standards for exports are subject to country-specific additional standards.

Some recent cases remind us that the quality problems of our food exports were a natural extension, or spill perhaps, of the problems in the home market. If, as Li said, the quality control authorities are applying identical state standards for both markets, enforcement should be equally strict.

Some of the inferior exports were found to be from non-accredited producers. If they are not qualified for supplying for overseas markets, why should they be allowed to sell to the home market?

(China Daily July 21, 2007)

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