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US Food Safety Officials Open Office in China

The United States has opened a Food and Drug Administration office in Beijing, as the first step in an FDA strategy to try to improve food and drug safety standards
around the world. The moves comes one week after the United States placed a temporary ban on dairy products imported from China, which is still recovering from a scandal involving tainted milk. Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

Beijing retiree, Mr. Ling, says recent scandals involving tainted foodstuffs in China have him worried.

Ling says he cannot be so scared that he stops eating altogether. He says although some businessmen who sold tainted milk to consumers have no conscience, he generally trusts his
government and, in the end, still has to eat.

The safety of Chinese food products also concerns the United States, which imported more than $4 billion worth of foodstuffs from China in 2007.

In recognition of the importance of China as a growing source for US edibles, the Food and Drug Administration opened its first overseas office in Beijing Wednesday. Eight FDA staffers
eventually will be based in three Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said FDA's China presence is the first step in a global strategy that will see FDA offices also open in India, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East in coming months.

"The opening of offices around the world is part of a desire we have to both build regulatory capacity with host governments, in other words, to improve our relationships and to work
jointly, in collaboration," he said.

Leavitt said having US inspection personnel on the ground, around the world, means they will be able to respond more rapidly to any problems that could occur.

China in recent months has been embroiled in a scandal involving milk tainted with melamine, an industrial chemical that gives the false appearance of higher protein content. The
tainted milk has killed at least four babies and sickened tens of thousands of others.

Melamine was also found to be the culprit in contaminated pet food ingredients imported to the United States from China in 2007, after pet cats and dogs died.

Last week, amidst the latest scandal, the United States imposed a ban on imports of Chinese dairy products, unless importers could certify they are free of melamine.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang Tuesday said his country regrets the US decision, and called for the ban to be lifted as soon as possible.

He also told reporters China plans to send "relevant" Chinese food safety officials to the United States.

Qin gave no specifics, but said China hopes the arrangement will help the two countries strengthen communication and cooperation on food quality and safety.

The posting of FDA officials in China was based on two agreements on the safety of food, feed, drugs and medical devices US and Chinese officials signed last December.