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Food Safety Is 'a Global Problem'

The country's top quality control official yesterday warned that the use of new materials, booming global trade and pollution pose new threats to food safety around the globe.

"In terms of food safety, the world faces many problems that should be treated seriously and resolved immediately," Li Changjiang, minister of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, told an international conference.

A large number of new materials and technologies used in food processing have spawned unknown risks, and worldwide distribution of food also causes potential dangers, Li said.

Global warming and pollution may result in more food contamination, and a recent series of food safety emergencies such as the outbreaks of mad cow and foot and mouth diseases have reminded the world of the importance of information sharing and an early warning system, he said.

Many participants at the two-day China International Food Safety and Quality Conference shared the minister's worries. They agreed that intensified international cooperation, especially in information and experience sharing, is vital for the prevention of, and a solution to, the problems.

"Long-distance transportation has made the process of moving food from the farm to the dinner table increasingly complex," Frank Yiannas, president of the International Association for Food Protection, said.

"It also makes wide-spread disease possible."

Jorgen Schlundt, director of the food safety department of the World Health Organization (WHO), said many problems emerging in developing countries have been well documented in developed countries.

"We need to make this information open to prevent the problems and know how to remedy them," he said.

"All countries need to improve their food safety systems. I said all countries, as food nowhere in the world is 100 percent safe," Schlundt said.

The WHO estimates that each year, unsafe food makes 2 billion people ill, about one third of the world population.

China last year exported 24 million tons of food to more than 200 countries and regions. But questions about the quality of Chinese food, toys and other exports have been raised in recent months after a string of product recalls and import bans.

To improve food safety and product quality, the government has issued a basket of measures, including the introduction of recall systems for food, drugs and toys.

"Many of the measures are preventive rather than reactive," Karen Mocatta, a food safety senior consultant with the Johnson Diversey Consulting Company, said. "That's major progress."

(China Daily September 13, 2007)

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