A top China food safety official on Saturday announced new measures aimed at curbing an epidemic of dangerous Chinese-made food products but admitted success could prove elusive.
China plans to set up comprehensive food safety evaluation systems in 31 cities by the end of the year and to implement other measures, the State Food and Drug Administration official was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying.
However, difficulties expected in upgrading such systems, plus the growing scale of the problem, will pose severe challenges, said Sun Xianze, head of the administration's food safety coordination department.
'China is in a time of serious food safety risks and our task of fixing this is extremely arduous. Despite some recent improvements, the food safety outlook is no cause for optimism,' he was quoted as telling a Beijing food safety symposium.
Sun's comments contrasted sharply with the government's so far upbeat response to a spate of health scares that have raised worldwide alarm and scrutiny over the quality of China's exports.
Officials have vigorously defended Chinese inspection systems.
But Sun acknowledged deficiencies in those systems that he said would only become more apparent.
'With the deepening of our work, problems in food safety mechanisms will gradually emerge and the difficulty in integrating and organising inspection work will only grow,' he said.
'The inspection, prevention and emergency response systems of food safety departments... will face increasing pressure and challenges,' Sun said.
Reports in the United States of tainted pet foods, dangerous toys, drugs, fish, cosmetics and other products have led to a spate of recalls and bans there.
Chinese officials have blamed foreign media for 'sensationalist' reports. Authorities have seized a number of US-made imports on safety concerns in moves widely viewed as retaliatory.
However, Sun admitted there was widespread use of dangerous chemicals in China's agricultural and livestock industries and that such problems posed a major threat to China's exports.
'Food safety problems have suffocated agricultural and food exports and harmed the reputation of our exports and our national image,' he said.
Reports of dangerous or deadly Chinese-made food products being sold domestically can also be expected to continue, he said.
'The food safety situation in China's villages also is no cause for optimism. Hidden dangers will continue to emerge, as will illnesses from the use of harmful substances,' he said.
The strengthened evaluations in the 31 cities will focus on products including grains, oils, vegetables, meat, eggs, dairy and fish.
The administration will also strengthen its information systems and better integrate its operations, he said.
Experts have said China needs a complete overhaul of relevant systems, noting that nine different ministries or agencies have control over food safety.