China Vows to Step Up Inspections

By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chinese officials yesterday sought to assure U.S. consumers that its goods are safe despite a recent spate of food and product-safety problems.

The rare news conference at the Chinese Embassy in the District came a day after Mattel recalled 250,000 Chinese-made toy cars in the United States because of unacceptable levels of lead-based paint.

Speaking for nearly two hours, Baoqing Zhao, the first secretary from the trade and commerce section of Chinese Embassy, said the government takes the recent incidents seriously and is cracking down on problematic companies. China has increased its food inspections, and starting Sept. 1, all food shipments from China will carry a government seal declaring that they have been inspected, he said.

"There are a couple of problems, but the problems are limited," he said. "What we want is to let consumers rest assured when they use products exported from China," they are safe, he said.

China's efforts followed Mattel's Tuesday announcement of its second large recall this month, including promotional toys for the movie "Cars." Those toys and 1.5 million recalled earlier this month include lead-based paint, which is not allowed in the United States. Other recalls of Chinese-made tires and toothpaste, and the detention of some seafood, have put the United States' largest trading partner on the defensive. President Bush appointed a panel last month to review import safety, though officials said it was not targeted at China.

There is a police investigation of the Chinese subcontractor that used the lead-based paint on the Mattel toys in Tuesday's recall, Zhao said. The recent recalls represent a small percentage of the Chinese goods imported to the United States each year, he said. "These are limited and isolated cases," he said.

Hitting on a theme that has been repeated by Chinese officials, Zhao also pointed out that China has found problems with food and consumer products imported from the United States. Last month, China blocked imports of some U.S. processed meat that it said showed signs of contamination, impacting some of the largest U.S. food companies, including Cargill Meat Solutions and Tyson Foods. Other problematic products, he said, have included large-scale construction equipment, generators and pacemakers.

"In our view, food quality and product safety is an international issue and not an issue limited to certain countries," Zhao said.

But China and U.S. regulators continued to face criticism from Congress yesterday, including a call from Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), a presidential candidate, for the suspension of all imports of toys and food from China. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that he will introduce legislation to create an "import czar" to coordinate agencies that oversee imports. Others in Congress have proposed creating a food-safety czar and increasing the size and reach of the Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which oversee imports of non-meat food and consumer goods, respectively.

"The fact that every week we have to frantically pull Chinese goods off store shelves shows that our safeguards are failing," Schumer said in a statement. "It is time we brought order to this chaos and protected American consumers from dangerous products."

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