China said it would shut small or unregulated food processors amid a spate of health scares over Chinese-made food and drugs, but defended the quality of its exports.
The scandals have grabbed global attention after patients in Panama died from poisonous ingredients in medicine and pets died in the United States from substandard feed, while tainted Chinese toothpaste was found in Central America and elsewhere.
A notice posted by the country’s quality watchdog on Wednesday said China would raise hygiene requirements for food processors and tighten the approval process for new drugs.
“By 2009, the number of small food processors will probably drop by 50%, and by 2012 no uncertified producers will remain,” the notice said.
Rules would restrict the re-use of ingredients, improper additives and banned substances.
China had more than 448,000 food producers of which half had incomplete certification and one-third no certification at all, the notice said. Three-quarters employed fewer than 10 people.
Ministry of Commerce spokesman Wang Xinpei told a regular news conference officials had noted the “doubts and comments” about Chinese food and drugs in the international media.
“The problems of several individual products should not be extended to the overall quality of Chinese exports,” Wang said. “Chinese products are recognized and accepted by overseas distributors and consumers.”
Wang added that China always paid great attention to export quality and had “repeatedly required Chinese exporters to implement contracts strictly and to deliver quality to importers and meet regulations in importing countries.’
China’s exports would not be impacted by several recent cases, he said, answering a question about whether food safety issues could jeopardize trade.
Still, the Health Ministry said that 96 people died of food poisoning in the first half of 2007, up more than a tenth on the same period last year.
That accounted for nearly half the deaths from “public health emergencies” in the first six months, the ministry said in a statement on its website.
Scandals involving substandard food or medicines are reported by Chinese media almost every day.
Public fears about food safety grew in 2004, when at least 13 babies died of malnutrition in Anhui province, in eastern China, after they were fed fake milk powder with no nutritional value.
In the latest case, state media reported that a market in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen was under investigation for possibly selling meat from sick and dying pigs.
China executed a former drug and food safety chief for corruption in an unusually swift sentence amid the health scandals that have stained the “made in China” brand. (Reuters)