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China Says It Will Overhaul Food Safety Procedures

  • Luis Ramirez

China has promised to clean up its food industry after exports of contaminated food ingredients led to the deaths of dogs and cats in North America. As VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Beijing, environmentalists in the country are calling for a ban on dangerous additives, and more thorough enforcement of food safety laws.

The Chinese government announced a plan this week to clean up its food industry.

The announcement was made as U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials visited China to investigate how Chinese melamine - a harmful additive - made its way into pet food in North America, killing or sickening thousands of dogs and cats in the United States.

Stories about poisoning from food products is nothing new in China, where manufacturers sometimes try to save money by mixing in substitutes that are both cheap - and toxic.

In their statement this week, Chinese officials said the cleanup campaign will include improved monitoring of fertilizer and pesticide use, something environmentalists have been calling on Beijing to do for years.

Angus Lam is an agriculture campaigner for the environmental group Greenpeace in southern China's Guangdong province. He welcomes the plans for a cleanup, but says he hopes the government will go further and ban dangerous additives and pesticides.

"The Chinese government should be more proactive in controlling all these chemicals or illegal pesticides at the source, to make sure that they are not available for farmers to use or for the producers to use in their production," he said.

Lam says it is common to see pesticides such as DDT - which was banned in China for agricultural use long ago - still on the market and available for non-agricultural uses.

International experts say the key is not so much for China to companies that sold the contaminated wheat gluten and rice protein blamed for the deaths of dogs and cats in North America.

Analysts say the international attention is prompting concerns among Chinese officials at a time when China's food exports are rising.

Some in the United States are calling for a ban on imports from China of the same type of wheat gluten and rice protein in which the melanine was mixed.