Japan, China discuss food safety

08:25, February 11, 2010      

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China and Japan are busy negotiating a new draft food safety agreement, which may allow Japanese officials to enter Chinese factories for safety inspections.

In cases where problems with China's exported food to Japan occur, the agreement would allow Japanese government officials to go to the scene to investigate, according to reports from the Japanese media, Sankei Shimbun.

China's top quality watchdog, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), confirmed the two sides are in talks about a cooperative agreement on food safety.

"Such an agreement is to implement the two countries' consensus on establishing a cooperative mechanism on food-safety issues," said a fax from the AQSIQ.

The safety of made-in-China food products has caused great concern in Japan after a toxic dumplings incident in 2008.

Traces of methamidophos, an insecticide banned in China, were found in some Chinese-made dumplings, which made about 10 people ill in Japan in January 2008.

Chinese authorities said the dumplings were unlikely to have been contaminated in China, as no harmful chemicals were tested in the remaining samples and no abnormal operations were found with the producer.

But Japanese officials insisted that the Chinese government further investigate the case and offer a clear explanation of the incident.

A spokesman from the Japanese Embassy in Beijing told China Daily that the toxic dumpling incident is one of the reasons that the two sides are working on a food-safety agreement.

"In a summit last November, leaders from both sides agreed to improve Japan-China food safety situations, which was proposed by our Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. Now officials in charge from both countries are carrying out regular consultations to establish a new cooperative framework," the spokesman, who would not give his name, said over the phone.

He said the tainted dumplings event in 2008 had effected the food-export business from China to Japan.

"In establishing further agreements, our goal is to prevent such safety incidents from happening again," the spokesman said. But no timetable is available yet.

The spokesman would not say whether the draft agreement would allow Japanese inspectors into Chinese factories as the media has reported.

However, experts said if the development becomes reality, it would be the first time that China granted foreign investigation teams permission to enter domestic factories.

Dong Jinshi, a food safety expert and vice president of the International Food Packaging Association, said he expects positive results from the agreement.

"If China allows Japanese investigators into domestic factories, it could be a chance to improve our own inspection processes," Dong said.

The move would demonstrate China's openness to Japan, since the bilateral trade relations mean much to both countries, he added.

"It's like letting a guest enter our bedroom," he said.

Japan was China's largest food-importing country in 2007, according to a white paper on "China's food quality and safety situation" issued by the State Council Information Office the same year.

Once the agreement takes effect, similar developments are possible between China and other countries, Dong said.

Source:China Daily
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