BEIJING/HONG KONG - China announced a food
industry clean-up on Wednesday after exports of a contaminated ingredient in pet food
drew global attention.
It will prioritise the inspection of fertiliser and pesticide use in
vegetable planting as well as animal medicines and additives in livestock feed,
according to a notice from the State Council, China's cabinet.
Beijing has also begun an investigation into the use of melamine scrap, a
chemical product that artificially raises the protein level of feed.
The longstanding Chinese practice came under a global spotlight after
the death of pets in the United States.
Illustrating the extent of corruption in the
regulatory system, Zheng Xiaoyu, a former head of the State Food and Drug
Administration, and his former secretary will go to trial on May 15 for taking bribes
to approve drugs.
The weak oversight and spate of safety breaches are increasingly raising
concern in countries that import food, or food ingredients, from China.
China acknowledged on Tuesday that two Chinese companies illegally exported
wheat gluten and rice protein that contained melamine scrap, a chemical product
that artificially inflates protein levels. It was mixed into pet food along with
another compound, causing a spate of animal deaths in the United States.
The companies denied any wrongdoing.
"There's no such thing. I never ever heard of such a thing. Authorities are
investigating this matter," Tian Feng, a Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co.
Ltd. manager, said in a news clip carried on CNN and broadcast in Hong Kong by
Tian was filmed in a detention centre in China speaking to two visitors
behind a glass wall.
The other company, Jiangsu-based Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology
Development Company Ltd., earlier denied to Reuters any role in the food
"Tests for melamine scrap would be conducted in Jiangsu province first, and
then in other areas," said an official with the China Feed Industry Association.
Industry officials said on Wednesday that melamine scrap was unlikely to be
linked to an unusually serious outbreak of blue ear disease among pigs in China
that started last year.
However, the Ministry of Commerce said draft rules had been issued for pig
slaughterhouses, including a ban on the injection of water or other artificial
substances to add weight to meat.
Experts say China lacks the infrastructure to monitor food quality and safety
property, particularly as its exports and trade ties grow.
"China doesn't have a First World regulatory system, and that's its biggest
weakness," said a China-based U.S. official.
The official added that there were also weaknesses globally.
A U.S. Food and Agriculture department team has arrived in China to help
investigate how melamine got into the feed. It is touring Shandong province, a
centre for the poultry and feed industry, and Jiangsu, home to many small
Washington has considered a ban on imports of wheat gluten and rice protein
from China, officials have said.
As part of the promised industry clean-up, China will test food, including
cooking oil, flour and beverages as well as baby food. Unqualified producers
will have their licences revoked, the State Council said in its announcement,
dated April 27 but posted on the central government's Web site (www.gov.cn) on
Separately, the Ministry of Health said it would step up hygiene inspections
of plants making food from beans.