Tests performed on Chinese-made tires like those recalled by Washington showed they were safe, Chinese regulators said Wednesday as officials announced a meeting with the United States over Chinese seafood exports.
Also Wednesday, Philippine authorities said they were testing more Chinese products after withdrawing several candies and cookies from stores because they tested positive for formaldehyde, a harmful embalming chemical.
The five-day meeting between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Chinese food safety authorities will begin July 31 in Beijing, said Li Yuanping, who heads the import and export safety bureau at the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
The talks aim to ease tensions triggered last month when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would block Chinese catfish, basa, dace, shrimp and eel, after repeated testing turned up contamination with drugs not approved in the United States for farmed seafood.
International concern over the safety of Chinese exports has risen in recent months over the discovery of toxins and chemicals in products such as juice and toothpaste.
China's crisis management effort
On Wednesday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to improve the country’s food safety, telling Japanese officials the government will better monitor domestic food production, Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported.
During the U.S. officials’ visit, which will include tours of food-processing factories, the two sides will discuss the block on Chinese seafood and future cooperation on food safety, Li said. He spoke while accompanying journalists on a rare trip to a juice-processing plant and a quality inspection center to showcase China’s adherence to safety procedures.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman from the quality supervision administration said government officials tested exported tires made by Hangzhou Zhongce Rubber Co.
“They found that all the examples met American standards,” said the spokeswoman, who gave only her surname, Xia. She said she didn’t know whether the tests confirmed tires were missing a gum strip or how authorities were sure they were representative of those sold in the U.S.
Last month, U.S. authorities ordered a recall of up to 450,000 tires made by Hangzhou Zhongce after its American distributor, Foreign Tire Sales Inc. of Union, N.J., said they lacked a gum strip, a key safety feature that binds the belts of a tire to each other.
The company said some tires also had a gum strip about half the width of the 0.6 millimeter strip it expected. The distributor was sued May 4 by the families of two men killed when their van crashed in Pennsylvania in 2006, reportedly riding on Hangzhou Zhongce tires.
Hangzhou Zhongce has denied supplying faulty products.
“The tires made by Zhongce Co. and imported by FTS underwent three different design stages. The design of these three stages met or even surpassed all relevant safety regulations,” the company said Wednesday.
The case has received unusually prominent coverage by Chinese media because the company is the country’s second-biggest tire manufacturer. Many companies involved in other recalls have been smaller and less well-known.
Joshua Ramos of the Philippines’ Bureau of Food and Drugs said his agency was testing more Chinese products, including toothpaste suspected of containing “heavy metals.” He did not elaborate.
In recent weeks, Beijing has challenged some of the international bans and rejection of its products, saying most Chinese goods have no problems. But it also has launched a sweeping effort to repair the reputation of its export industries, promising more aggressive safety enforcement.
Among 177 batches of substandard food imports from China listed by the FDA in April, 77, or 56 percent, were illegally exported, said Li, the quality official.
Beginning Sept. 1, all exports will bear a seal indicating they have been inspected by the Chinese quality administration, and importers will be able to trace the original producer using a code on the seal, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Li as saying.
At the food safety inspection center of the Beijing Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau on Wednesday, reporters were shown room after room of employees testing food products for pathogens, pesticides, additives and other elements.
The facility, which has a staff of 60, tests about 30,000 samples a year, officials said.
“More than 99 percent of Chinese exports are qualified,” Li said. “Of course we are paying close attention to the 1 percent."