Chinese Premier Wen Vows China Food to Meet Global Standards

by VR Sreeraman on Oct 26 2008 11:49 AM

Premier Wen Jiabao pledged on Saturday that China's food exports would meet international norms and win the trust of people globally, promising lessons would be learnt from the nation's milk scandal.

Wen pledged Chinese food exports would "comply with the standards of importing countries," adding China would "seriously draw lessons" from the milk contamination scandal that led to the deaths of four babies.

"We will use our actions and high quality of our food products to win the trust and confidence of Chinese people and people around the world," he told reporters at the end of a summit of Asian and European leaders in Beijing.

Four babies died of kidney failure and at least 53,000 children fell ill this year after consuming milk powder and other dairy products in China contaminated by the industrial chemical melamine.

Chinese dairy products around the world also were recalled or banned after they were found to be tainted, dealing another blow to the "Made in China" brand already tarnished by a string of safety scandals in recent years.

Wen said China had made great efforts to improve its food safety system after the scandal erupted last month.

"After the incident, we took prompt measures to work out regulations on product safety in the dairy industry," Wen said.

He pointed to a new law on food safety that is currently before China's parliament as evidence the nation was seeking to improve its dairy industry.

China's parliament on Thursday began debating the draft law, which aims to prevent any cover-ups by health authorities and make them directly responsible for approving additives in processed foods.

Consumers began complaining about milk products in March of this year, but local health departments failed to respond until September, leading to accusations of a cover-up.

The health ministry has not reported any new fatalities since last month, but has said that the four infant deaths so far linked to the milk scandal occurred between May and August, before the problem was made public.

More than 3,650 infants are still in hospital as a result of the contamination, three of them in serious condition, the government said on Thursday.

Wen said Saturday that responsibility, and particularly legal liability, needed to be laid out in "every process and every link" of the food industry, "so as to ensure the health and safety of the general public."

Authorities would, meanwhile, prosecute those found responsible for the incident.

More than 40 people have so far been arrested in northern China, the heart of the country's dairy industry, for their alleged role in the scandal.

Some have been accused of illegally adding melamine, normally used to make plastics, into watered-down milk to make it appear higher in protein, while others have been caught for allegedly selling the chemical.

Wen reiterated that his government was partly to blame for the milk scandal, as it was responsible for regulating the industry at the heart of the crisis.

"This is not only a problem of companies and enterprises, this is also a problem and task for the government, in particular in the field of regulation and management," he said.