China's Premier Promises Safer Food Exports

Premier Wen Jiabao said China will take steps to improve its food safety, claiming that tainted milk products that sickened thousands of children was a failure of regulation.

BEIJING (AP) -- China's premier said Saturday the country will take steps to improve its food safety, saying that tainted milk products that are believed to have killed four babies and sickened thousands of children was a failure of regulation.

Speaking at a 43-nation Asia-Europe Meeting summit, Wen Jiabao said the milk scandal 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."

In another display of government resolve, state television showed authorities burning tainted dairy products. Some 32,200 tons were destroyed this month in one province, the Xinhua News Agency said. It said about a third what was burned was infant formula made by Shijiazhuang Sanlu Group, whose products were the most heavily tainted.

More than 3,600 children 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," Wen said. "We will take this opportunity of implementing this law on food safety to step up efforts in this field."

The state-run China Daily newspaper said the law will 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.

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 products in dozens of countries.

The draft law was submitted for review by China's legislature, the National People's Congress, on Thursday at the beginning of a six-day session.

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.

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