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US will station inspectors in China to examine exports

Safety officials will be in 3 ports

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Bloomberg News / August 26, 2008
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BEIJING - The United States will station inspectors in three Chinese cities to scrutinize exports to the States, responding to concerns over the safety of China-produced food, toys, and pharmaceutical ingredients.

Up to 15 inspectors will be assigned to Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt said in an interview. China agreed in December 2007 to let the Food and Drug Administration establish China offices, among other agreements reached in its Strategic Economic Dialogue with the United States.

China's government "worked hard" at improving safety, Leavitt said in Beijing. "I don't think they've got the problem completely solved, but it was clear to them that the made-in-China brand was affected by product quality problems and they moved aggressively to begin making progress."

Concern over the safety of Chinese products last year shifted the focus of the twice-annual US-China strategic dialogue away from the pace of the yuan's gains. President Bush in June boosted the FDA's budget by $275 million for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 to finance inspections of overseas plants that produce food and medicine for export.

Food-safety problems sparked a drop in exports to Japan and the United States this year. Contaminated consumer exports, including pesticide-laced frozen dumplings in Japan and tainted Heparin blood thinner in the United States this year have sparked international furor over the safety of Chinese-made products.

Mattel Inc. recalled 21 million Chinese-made products in 2007. The Segundo, Calif.-based company incurred $110 million in recall, legal, advertising, and testing costs last year, after taking back Sesame Street vehicles with lead-tainted paint and Polly Pocket dolls with magnets that can be swallowed by children.

Menu Foods Ltd., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and five other companies sued by consumers last year for selling tainted pet food reached a $24 million settlement in May with plaintiffs.

Las Vegas-based ChemNutra Inc., and two Chinese businesses were charged in February by a federal grand jury in connection with the import of tainted pet food ingredients that may have killed thousands of cats and dogs in 2007. The dog and cat foods contained melamine-tainted wheat gluten that can cause kidney failure and death. ChemNutra has denied any deliberate wrongdoing.

"I don't think there is any question" that Chinese food and drug products are safer as compared with last year, Leavitt said. "Will there be problems in the future? Yes. Will there be as many of them? I don't think so."

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