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US asks China to keep closer tabs on exports

WASHINGTON -- US officials asked their Chinese counterparts to increase oversight of food and drug exports yesterday as the list of potentially deadly products reaching US shores kept growing.

The United States asked China to require exporters to register with the government, amid other measures meant to provide greater assurance of the safety of their products. The requests came amid ongoing problems with Chinese exports, including chemically spiked pet food ingredients and, as of yesterday, potentially poisonous toothpaste and toxic fish.

A Chinese Embassy spokeswoman declined to comment other than to refer a reporter to previous statements made by government officials. Earlier this week, Vice Premier Wu Yi, in Washington for high-level economic talks, warned against politicizing economic and trade issues.

The latest problems with Chinese products began in March, when imported pet food ingredients were found to be spiked with the industrial chemical melamine and related compounds. The contamination was blamed in the deaths of dogs and cats in North America and prompted a cascade of recalls.

Yesterday, even more potential problems were disclosed: The FDA said it was stopping all imports of Chinese toothpaste to test for a deadly chemical reportedly found in tubes sold in Australia, the Dominican Republic, and Panama. The testing will look for diethylene glycol, a chemical commonly used in antifreeze and brake fluid, spokesman Doug Arbesfeld said. The imports will be released only if they test negative for the chemical.

The FDA also said an importer was recalling 282 22-pound boxes labeled as Chinese monkfish that it distributed to three states. Two Chicago-area people became ill after eating the fish, which FDA testing later revealed contained life-threatening levels of tetrodotoxin, a sometimes deadly toxin. Importer Hong Chang Corp., of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., believes the fish may actually be puffer fish, which can contain tetrodotoxin.