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Global effort needed on food safety: Wu
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Vice-Premier Wu Yi yesterday called for closer international cooperation on food safety by establishing a notification system.

Speaking at the High-Level International Food Safety Forum in Beijing, Wu said food safety is a shared problem and responsibility of all countries.

A large number of new materials and technologies used in food processing have spawned new risks, and worldwide distribution also renders the problem international, she said.

"Therefore, we need to establish an international food safety notification system so that all countries can get first-hand information on emergencies such as the outbreaks of mad cow disease and bird flu, as well as other food-borne diseases," Wu told about 600 delegates from more than 40 countries and regions.

She also urged all countries to protect the environment of food producing areas. "Clean water, soil and air are the preconditions for safe food. We should pay more attention to source management and pollution mitigation," Wu said.

Li Changjiang, the top quality control official, said the environmental protection of food producing areas should focus on the control of pesticide and veterinary drug residue to prevent contamination.

Both officials acknowledged that although China had made progress in improving food safety after a campaign started in late August, gaps still exist between the country and the "advanced level" of food safety monitoring around the world.

"We still face problems such as a large number of small-scale food processing plants and inadequate government supervision," said Li, head of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ).

Wu said she hopes that developed countries provide more help to developing countries to raise their standards, improve food production technology and strengthen supervision.

The vice-premier also stressed that international food safety issues should be settled through consultation.

"We disagree with biased, incomplete media reports and pure condemnation that are blind to the facts; and we are opposed to trade barriers set for food safety issues and politicizing the issues," Wu said.

Chinese products have been in the international spotlight lately after foreign media reported on allegedly toxic toothpaste and seafood, and unsafe toys. The government has said some of the reports were media hype and irresponsible.

As part of China's global efforts, framework cooperation agreements were signed yesterday with Germany and the Republic of Korea. Wei Chuanzhong, deputy head of AQSIQ, said the agreements incorporate a consultation mechanism if an emergency occurs.

Susan Winckler, acting chief of staff of the US Food and Drug Administration, said yesterday that China and the US might sign two cooperation deals next month on food and feed, and drugs and medical devices.

Delegates attending the two-day forum lauded China's recent efforts to improve food safety and hosting the forum, which is to issue a declaration on food safety today.

"Let me thank the Chinese government for hosting this forum... which places major emphasis on the international exchange of information and expertise. I find this most appropriate," Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, said while addressing the forum in a video speech.

European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson also said China's efforts to improve quality are a good start, but warned that it might be a long and meticulous process.

(China Daily November 27, 2007)

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