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Shanghai says complete food safety testing system in place

As China is frightened by the cases of contaminated Chinese products ranging from cough syrup to pet food, business hub of Shanghai will soon employ mobile testing units which will check safety of most food within 30 minutes.

The report follows the announcement earlier Wednesday of a nationwide crackdown on contaminated and unsafe food and drugs, long a serious problem in China but one that is now drawing greater attention abroad.

The scandals have the potential to threaten China's farm exports, posing a major headache for the communist government, which has been struggling to jump-start rural growth.

Scrutiny on Chinese food exports was increased after the U.S. blacklisted two Chinese companies linked to a pet food ingredient tainted with the toxic chemical melamine and blamed in the deaths of an unknown number of cats and dogs.

The Chinese government agency responsible for food safety has ordered stepped up checks on plant proteins such as wheat gluten or rice protein, the ingredients found contaminated. It has also banned the export or domestic sale of melamine, which is sometimes added to animal feeds to fool testers by making them appear to have higher nitrogen levels and therefore more nutritious.

China earlier this week announced the detention of managers at the two firms involved, apparently on suspicion of mislabeling the exports to avoid inspections.

Concern over contaminated food exports appears to have also given domestic food safety efforts a fresh impetus.

All Shanghai districts have been equipped with "food safety testing vehicles and personnel," that will eliminate the need for expensive and time-consuming laboratory tests, the official Xinhua News Agency said in a report issued late Wednesday.

"The system can tell the safety of most food products within 30 minutes," Li Jie, deputy director of the Shanghai Food and Drug Supervision Institute, was quoted as saying.

Separately, the Shanghai Daily newspaper said officials expect to begin using the system to test meat and vegetables in local markets by year's end, and use the results to enforce legal rulings such as fines.

Such contaminated products have frequently led to illness because of overuse of pesticides and chemical fertilizer, or by the injection of liquids into meat to boost weight and sale prices.

Contaminated food has increasingly turned up abroad, occasionally leading to blanket bans.

The U.S. states of Mississippi and Alabama recently banned catfish from China after tests found ciprofloxacin and enrofloxacin, antibiotics forbidden from use in the United States. Louisiana officials said Monday they'd begin testing Chinese seafood for the antibiotics.

Excessive antibiotic or pesticide residues have caused bans in Europe and Japan on Chinese shrimp, honey and other products. Hong Kong blocked imports of turbot last year after inspectors found traces of malachite green, a possibly cancer-causing chemical used to treat fungal infections, in some fish.

Within China, babies have died after being fed fake baby formula, eggs have been impregnated with dangerous dyes to make their yolks redder and raise their sale price, and children injected with worthless rabies vaccine that's nothing but saltwater.

Xinhua also cited an official with the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, China's Cabinet, saying his department was in the process of drafting amendments to the country's Food Safety Law. No details were given.

In Washington, the FDA's commissioner, Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, and Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong told two lawmakers Wednesday they would work toward a mutual agreement to improve inspections and the overall safety of food products and drugs traded between the U.S. and China.

That agreement would likely take the form of a memorandum of understanding between the two governments, said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who convened the meeting with Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut.

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