US report finds woeful food oversight in China

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WASHINGTON, Oct 6 (Reuters) Poor food regulation in China may pose a grave threat to the safety of US consumers and must be bolstered by stronger safeguards when importing into the United States, a congressional report found.

''The lack of meaningful internal regulation of farming and food processing in China, the advanced development of the document counterfeiting industry, and the willingness of some entrepreneurs in both China and the United States to smuggle ... necessitates a much more vigorous program of inspection and laboratory testing,'' said the report, which was based on a recent trip to China by US House of Representatives staff.

The report found a complicated government export control system and only a ''minimal ability'' to ensure safe food production, even at the village level.

All this ''necessitates a much more vigorous program of inspection and laboratory testing in China and at US ports of entry than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been able or willing to pursue to date.'' In August, John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Bart Stupak, also a Michigan Democrat, dispatched staff workers on a two-week visit to China and Hong Kong to meet with government and business officials.

The report found farmers' often blind reliance on farm chemicals, a fractured regulatory system, and spotty enforcement of quality and export rules.

The trip comes in a year roiled by imports of unsafe goods from China -- from seafood to pet food, toys to tires. With polls showing consumer concern on the rise about the safety of imports, lawmakers have circulated a host of proposals to overhaul US defenses.

Dingell and Stupak are two sponsors of a bill to impose a fee on food and drug imports, which would help the Food and Drug Administration -- which oversees most food coming from abroad -- screen more imports.

''These findings are first-hand confirmation that food from China presents a clear and present danger to Americans under the current conditions of import,'' Dingell said in a statement.

The FDA has inspected only around 1 per cent of food imports under its authority in recent years.

The report suggested the government should take a cue from Japan, which tests a greater share of its own food shipments, and recommended, at the very least, the FDA should limit food imports to properly certified Chinese companies.

While China has taken a beating in the headlines this year, the report stressed that it is not the United States' only import threat. ''India's food item imports are rejected as unfit for human consumption at our borders more often than Chinese imports,'' it said.

US-produced food is also under scrutiny. Yesterday, a major US producer of frozen beef patties closed its doors after illnesses related to the E.coli bacterium prompted a massive recall.

REUTERS SBA AS0626

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