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Illegal food additives still a problem in China

/ Source: The Associated Press

China's food industry still suffers from the use of dangerous illegal additives, a health official said Tuesday, vowing to widen a national crackdown to stop the practice a few months after the industrial chemical melamine was found in milk products that sickened thousands of children.

Vice Health Minister Chen Xiaohong told a video conference Tuesday that underground markets for additives still exist in some regions, and there are "unspoken secrets" in the food industry, said the official Xinhua News Agency.

"Some lawless people are still using high technologies to develop food counterfeiting techniques to challenge the supervision capability of law enforcement departments," he was quoted as saying.

China launched a four-month campaign in December against the illegal use of additives after milk tainted with melamine, which was used to make it appear higher in protein, was linked to the deaths last year of at least six Chinese babies and illnesses of nearly 300,000 others.

The scandal, which unfolded in September, was one of the country's worst food contamination crises.

It prompted the drafting of a new food safety law. China's top legislature decided Wednesday to set up a food safety commission to strengthen the food monitoring system, Xinhua said. The law aims to set stricter food quality standards and demands higher government responsibility.

The next stage in the crackdown will be to target dairy products, processed meat, as well as rice, flour, oil and liqueurs, Chen was quoted as saying.

"The authorities will lay bare companies that fail to rectify their problems, and root out the production sources of illegal additives, and severely punish those who deliberately produce, sell and use illegal additives in food," he was quoted as saying.

More than 1,000 cases have been investigated involving the illegal use or misuse of additives after the government received public tip-offs or complaints, Xinhua said. Seven people are being investigated, it said, and four of them have been arrested.

The campaign, which involved the Health Ministry, the State Food and Drug Administration, and seven other government departments has so far checked some 1.36 million food-processing firms, the report said.