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China: En Route to Better Food Safety

China, recently in the media spotlight for food safety issues, was put well on track to better food safety, as the country went all out to ensure safety of its food products and restore consumer confidence home and abroad.

The country's efforts to this end seem to have accelerated last month.

It issued the first white paper on food safety on August 17 and put Vice Premier Wu Yi to head a high-profile panel on product quality and safety issues, followed by a string of efforts made by various government organs in the recent month to crack down on food safety issue.

On August 31, the quality watchdog officially introduced the nation's landmark recall systems for unsafe food products and toys amid efforts to improve product safety, charging producers with prior and major responsibilities for preventing and eliminating unsafe food and toys.

Food safety became a rising concern among Chinese citizens after a series of food contamination accidents occurred across the country in recent months.

Last November, the country's food safety watchdog found that seven companies were producing red-yolk eggs contaminated with dangerous red Sudan dyes, supposed to be used in the leather and fabric industries, but banned for food use.

In the same month, Shanghai police arrested three people who were adding three to four grams of banned steroid drug to each ton of pig feed to increase lean meat. The steroids, which prevent pigs from accumulating fat, are poisonous to humans. More than 300 people fell ill after eating the meat.

Also last year, carcinogenic residues were detected in turbot sold on markets in Beijing and Shanghai.

Even international fast food giant KFC was accused of adding cancer-causing Sudan 1 to its roast chicken wings.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health show that in the first half of this year, China reported 134 food poisoning cases, which poisoned 4,457 people and killed 96.

Food is China's biggest industry with the 2006 output estimated at 2.4 trillion yuan (US$315.8 billion), according to the China National Food Industry Association, and eating is vitally important for Chinese people.

Meanwhile, there were bitter stories when people fell victim to food safety threats.

In June of 2006, more than 130 people contracted parasitic disease after eating undercooked snails in a restaurant. Yang and his family, including his parents, his wife and his 18-month daughter were among them.

The Beijing Health Bureau said the infection was caused by undercooking in the restaurant, which failed to eradicate eel worms on the snails.

Although he survived the deadly disease, Yang still suffers aches and pains in his lower body and stomach and now regards food, once a great pleasure, as a potential threat.

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