China's exports threatened over contaminated food (22/5/2007)

1.China faces consumer confidence issue - EU official
2.China food scare threatens exports

NOTE: Just as in the US, China has never approved the commercial growing of GM rice but GM contamination is damaging its exports and compounding a lack of confidence in Chinese products.

EXTRACTS: China should provide more samples of bird flu viruses found in the country as well as samples of genetically modified produce to better help the bloc protect its own citizens, said Robert Madelin, the EU's Director General for Health and Consumer Protection. (item 1)


1.China faces consumer confidence issue - EU official
By Ben Blanchard
Reuters, 22 May 2007

BEIJING, May 22 (Reuters) - China faces a global challenge to maintain consumer confidence in its products following a series of health scares, a senior European Union official said on Tuesday, adding that Beijing must be more cooperative.

China should provide more samples of bird flu viruses found in the country as well as samples of genetically modified produce to better help the bloc protect its own citizens, said Robert Madelin, the EU's Director General for Health and Consumer Protection.

"The challenge for China is to maintain global confidence in its products, and the way to do that is for the regulatory authorities to be very open and very cooperative," he told a news conference in Beijing.

"(This) is exactly what we have been suggesting in areas like GM, to share samples, so that the enforcers in Europe feel like we're getting good cooperation," Madelin added, referring to genetically modified products.

In the most recent scandal, U.S. consumers have been alarmed by a spate of pet deaths blamed on tainted wheat gluten and rice protein exported from China, as well as reports of toxins and disease in other Chinese exports.

A Chinese-made medicine ingredient also killed at least 100 people in Panama, according to a report in the New York Times.

China's Foreign Ministry repeated the government's line that the country takes food and drug safety seriously.

"In recent years the government has done a fair bit of work on this, and has gradually set up a comprehensive legal system," spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news conference, adding investigations were continuing into "some cases".

Madelin said China was still holding back on sharing bird flu samples.

"We need samples because flu viruses evolve very quickly and our laboratory needs to have DNA finger-printing of different samples so that if, in the future, a wild swan comes from somewhere in China to somewhere in Europe and it dies of flu, we can tell from the DNA that that's where it came from," Madelin said.


China has millions of backyard birds and a strained rural medical system that is seen as key in the fight against bird flu.

The government on Saturday confirmed the latest outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu virus among poultry in the central province of Hunan, but no cases of human infection have been reported in the area.

Chinese pig farmers are grappling with an outbreak of blue ear disease, or Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, too, which industry sources say has wiped out as many as a million pigs and sent domestic pork prices soaring.

The EU would also like more samples of Chinese-grown genetically modified rice, Madelin said.

European and Chinese officials have been negotiating rules to test for ingredients processed from genetically modified rice or other cereals in Chinese exports, though the rules have not been finalised.

"Chinese officials feel that they have too little rice to send a few kilograms to Europe, but we have asked them to grow some more," Madelin said.

No transgenic rice is allowed to be grown, sold or marketed in the EU, where consumers have a reputation for mistrusting genetically modified food.

However, last year two environmental groups said samples from three EU member states included a biotech strain in products made with rice grown in China.

China has not approved commercial growing of GM rice but some environmental groups have said it has already made its way into the food chain. (Additional reporting by Guo Shipeng and Niu Shuping)


2.China food scare threatens exports
Reuters, May 17 2007

HONG KONG: Foreign buyers of Chinese food are asking for safety tests following the melamine pet food debacle, threatening the country’s competitive position in a wide range of markets, including organic ingredients.

Industry officials said US and other firms had demanded a certificate that farm products were free of melamine.

Their comments came after a US Food and Drug Administration team visited China to investigate how melamine, a chemical product, got into pet food, killing at least 16 pets in the United States and leading to a recall of more than 100 brands of pet food.

Costs for such safety checks are expected to soar, especially as it would take time for the country to build up reliable nationwide quality controls.

"This scandal has had severe consequences for the whole industry," said Chuk Ng, general manager of Nutrogen (Dalian) Co Ltd, a company specialising in organic and non-genetically modified (GMO) farm products.

"Now the European and US clients are checking every batch of products coming from China ... The GMO test is one. Now you add tests for melamine or other heavy metals or pesticides, the costs are very high, too high," Ng said.

Pressured by the US government after the melamine breaches, Beijing has pledged to act on food safety and announced an industry clean-up that would bring inspections for fertiliser, pesticides and additives in livestock feed.

Foreign buyers, reluctant to take risks, are sending large quantities of food samples to international testing specialists such as Eurofins Scientific or SGS Group.

Japan, own systems

The industry officials said Japan, which accounts for about a quarter of China’s farm product exports, had also recommended importers check for melamine in Chinese products, such as rice flour or wheat gluten, for use in animal feed.

"The safety tests for raw materials are likely to get tougher," said a senior official from a Japanese food processing plant in China.

"Eventually they could demand traceability similar to that for non-GMO products ... which would raise costs. Given higher costs and credibility, there’s a question if you would still want to buy raw materials from China."

A year ago Japan tightened safety checks on farm products from China, which has angered Beijing. The new rules require checks for nearly 300 pesticides and chemicals residues at loading ports as well as at discharging ports.

Asked how to guarantee the quality of food imported from China, an official in charge of food safety at one of Hong Kong’s largest food retailers said: "It’s very important to get system in place for traceability all the way back in the supply chain. "When you have traceability, you can then have accountability. I think this is what China lacks." reuters

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