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US Food Safety Official: China Takes Problem Seriously


The top U.S. food safety official says he believes the Chinese government is serious about improving the quality of its food products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's David Acheson spoke Wednesday following a series of scandals involving tainted products from China. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

The safety of a wide range of Chinese products is global headline news these days.

Patients in Panama died from poisonous ingredients in medicines made in China. In the United States, American consumers have contended with tainted pet food, contaminated toothpaste and a U.S. government alert on imports of seafood products from China.

On Tuesday, China executed the head of the its food and drug agency. He was accused of taking bribes to certify fake and substandard drugs.

In an interview in Washington Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's David Acheson says the move shows that Beijing does take the issue of contaminated food and drugs seriously.

"But simply executing somebody typically isn't going to solve the problem," he said. "They [problems] are typically more complex than that. I do not believe it is one person who has messed up here. It is an infrastructure struggle."

This view is supported by Jeffrey Bader, director of the Brookings Institution's China Institute. He says the Chinese government lacks a system of transparency, which has proven to be an obstacle for U.S. officials trying to get more information about contaminated or unsafe products that come from China.

"And the experience of the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture], the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], the U.S. embassy, was pretty similar - that they get essentially no response, or opacity, from the [Chinese] authorities and from the manufacturers," said Bader. "And, now that China is fully integrated into the global production chain, that is not satisfactory."

China Wednesday announced strict new food and drug safety measures that call for the country's estimated 450,000 uncertified food producing operations to be certified by 2012.

The Food and Drug Administration's Acheson says Beijing will have a difficult time regulating so many producers, especially since most of them are small and employ fewer than 10 people. But he said he is convinced China has its own incentives to address the problem.

"They want to fix it," he said. "I think they want to fix it. I mean, what's the driver? I'm sure for China, they're looking at it from an economic perspective, as much as anything else."

Acheson said U.S. concern for the safety of food imports from China is not new. He added that food safety problems are not unique to China and stressed that the U.S. government is not singling out the Asian nation for special attention.