BEIJING (AP) — China has defended the quality of its food exports in a formal notice sent to the World Health Organization, saying almost all such exports are safe.
Meanwhile, an official linked to a scandal surrounding the country' problematic pharmaceutical industry was sentenced to four years in prison for taking bribes, the official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday.
The Health Ministry notice is a sign of growing government concern over a global backlash against Chinese food and other exports following product recalls and complaints of chemically tainted toys, seafood and juice drinks.
While initially leery about acknowledging problems, authorities have since thrown themselves into a public relations campaign to win back consumer trust.
''The Chinese government has consistently placed a high priority on the work of food safety,'' said the eight-page notice, which was sent a week ago but posted on the ministry's Web site on Wednesday.
''The Chinese government is willing to increase information exchanges and communication with international society and other countries in line with its attitude of openness and transparency,'' it said.
The voluntary statement also repeated previous Chinese statements that 99 percent of the country's food exports were safe.
''WHO is pleased to have received this briefing from the MOH which shows that the government has recognized that China has some special challenges and is working to address them,'' said Joanna Brent, a Beijing-based spokeswoman for the World Health Organization.
According to Xinhua, the former head of the food and drug bureau in Zhejiang province has been sentenced to four years in prison for taking bribes.
Zheng Shangjin had connections with Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of the State Food and Drug administration, who was executed last month for taking bribes to approve substandard medicines, including an antibiotic that killed at least 10 people. The two men are not related.
Zheng Shangjin once arranged a meeting between Zheng Xiaoyu and officials of the Hainan Kangliyuan Group, which has been accused of giving the SFDA head bribes and paintings in exchange for receiving approvals for more than 270 drugs, state media has reported.
Zheng Shangjin, who was removed from his post last October, abused his power and accepted bribes totaling 680,000 yuan (US$90,000, euro68,000) from Kangliyuan officials, allowed them to give money to his relatives and buy him an Audi, Xinhua said.
Leniency was shown to Zheng because he ''surrendered himself to the police, told them all the crimes he had committed'' and returned the bribes, Xinhua said.
In its letter, the Health Ministry reiterated a list of actions China has taken recently to improve food safety, from increased inspections to penalties for companies that violate standards.
''We hope the World Health Organization gives support and help to China's food safety work, and also reports on the situation to member states,'' it said.
China launched a campaign this week to weed out unqualified manufacturers amid a global recall of Chinese-made toys — part of a bigger, four-month effort to improve overall quality in all steps of production.
The crackdown on toy makers comes two weeks after Mattel Inc., the world's largest toy maker, recalled almost 19 million dolls, cars and action figures because they contained lead paint or tiny magnets that could damage organs if swallowed by children.
Chinese officials have said Mattel is also partly to blame because of poor designs and inadequate inspections.
On Tuesday, about 6,000 China-made Robbie Ducky Kids Watering Cans were recalled in the United States because the beak of the can contains lead-tainted paint.
Chen Xitong, an official with China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said the agency will contact the U.S. consumer protection group for more details and will conduct an investigation.