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Premier says China to ensure safe food

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[October 25, 2008]  BEIJING (AP) -- China's Premier said Saturday the country will take steps to reform its food safety, saying a milk scandal that has sickened thousands of kids was a failure of regulation.

Speaking at a 43-nation Asia-Europe Meeting summit, Wen Jiabao said tainted milk products that sickened so many and are believed to have killed four babies will spur the introduction of China's first major food safety law and China's food exports will meet international standards.

"Food involves a full process from the farmland to the table, it involves many links and many processes," he said. "In every link and every process we need to put in place effective and powerful regulatory measures."

More than 3,600 kids still remain sick in China from milk contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, used in plastics and fertilizer, with three in serious condition, the Ministry of Health said last week.

"We will improve legislation in food safety ... We will take this opportunity of implementing this law on food safety to step up efforts in this field," he said.

China's food exports will comply with international standards and standards of importing countries, he said. Since authorities announced that melamine was found in a host of milk products in September, the scandal has prompted a string of recalls of Chinese-made milk and products containing milk in dozens of countries.

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The draft food safety law was submitted to be reviewed by China's legislature, the National People's Congress, on Thursday at the beginning of a six-day session.

The state-run China Daily newspaper said it will set stricter food quality standards with all health departments to impose safety standards on food additives and ban all harmful chemicals. It will also allow the government to recall unsafe food if companies fail to do so, it said.

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Authorities say middlemen apparently added melamine to milk they collected from farmers to sell to large dairy companies. The suppliers are accused of watering down the milk and then adding the nitrogen-rich chemical to make the milk seem higher in protein when tested. Protein tests often simply measure nitrogen levels.

Wen said China needs to specify legal responsibility in every link of the chain and those responsible, including government leaders, would be punished.

[Associated Press; By HENRY SANDERSON]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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