Responding to growing international concerns about tainted food and counterfeit drugs, China has announced that it is overhauling its food- and drug-safety regulations and will introduce nationwide inspections.
The announcement late Tuesday from the State Council, the nation's highest administrative body, is the strongest signal yet that Beijing is moving to crack down on the sale of dangerous food and medicine and also trying to calm fears that some of its exports pose health problems.
The move follows a series of embarrassing episodes this year involving China's export of contaminated pet food ingredients and toothpaste. The shipments of tainted pet food ingredients set off one of the largest pet food recalls in U.S. history.
Last month, an article in The New York Times revealed that at least 100 people had died in Panama after taking medicine containing a toxic chemical called diethylene glycol that had been produced in China and exported as the harmless syrup glycerine.
And in recent weeks, several countries, including the United States, Panama and Nicaragua, recalled or issued warnings about toothpaste made in China because it contained diethylene glycol.
While Beijing has strongly defended the quality and safety of its food and drug exports, and even denied that toothpaste it exported was unsafe, government regulators at the same time have stepped up safety inspections and shut down companies accused of producing unsafe food or counterfeit drugs.
But with pressure growing from regulators in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world, and international food companies expressing concern about the risks of importing Chinese-made food and feed ingredients, Beijing is pushing for a more-forceful response to the crisis.
In its announcement on Tuesday, which was posted on a government Web site, China said that the State Council had approved a new food- and drug-safety guarantee system on April 17 and that an outline of the new program was being distributed to government agencies nationwide.
The government said in its announcement that it planned by 2010 to place new controls on food and drug imports and exports, to step up random testing on medicines and have inspection information on 90 percent of all food products.