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US Health Official Halt Chinese Fish Imports


U.S. health officials say they will stop imports of five species of fish from China because of concerns the seafood is contaminated with potentially dangerous antibiotics. China has repeatedly defended the quality of its exports amid rising criticism of faulty or tainted products.
China's food safety came under intense scrutiny earlier this year following at least 51 deaths in Panama tied to toothpaste containing a Chinese industrial chemical. And in North America, tainted pet food from China was blamed for several animal deaths. China says it will introduce its first food safety recall system by the end of this year. Sam Beattie has more from Beijing.

It is a made-for-media tour of China's high-tech testing facilities. Chinese officials want to publicize the efforts they take to monitor quality control and prevent fake products from reaching the domestic and export markets.

The vice-minister for Industry and Commerce, Li Dong Sheng, says he does not want Chinese exports to get a bad reputation. He says people can trust China.

"Because this is so important, we are very concerned about protecting the rights of consumers. We do not want to cause panic among people, which would be unnecessary, but whenever problems occur we will inform the public truthfully."

Truth about consumer safety may have consequences far outside China. Its booming economy is built largely on exports. Since reforming its economy, China has worked to position itself as a global manufacturer.

Citigroup economist Shen Minggao says China cannot afford to lose customers.

"A sudden slowdown in exports would create a set of problems in China. Overcapacity problems everywhere, deflation and possibly bankruptcy of firms."

But in neighborhood markets, like one in Beijing, lax quality controls come as no surprise for local shoppers. It is up to individuals with a keen eye to judge quality.

Authorities have tried to improve domestic standards, after numerous tainted food incidents domestically, but local consumers continue to be cautious. One person commented, "It has definitely improved the situation, but it will never fix it completely." Another person cautions, "We still need to watch out, some markets have problems."

The market in Beijing holds a good reputation for fresh, quality food. With conditions like these in plain sight, the questions are who is enforcing quality controls behind closed doors.

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