China calls U.S. blocking of its seafood imports indiscriminate and unacceptable

The Associated Press
Published: June 29, 2007

BEIJING: China called a U.S. block on its seafood 'indiscriminate' and 'unacceptable' and urged closer cooperation on food safety between the two trading partners, state media said Saturday.

"China cannot accept the indiscriminate and automatic detention of four kinds of Chinese seafood by the United States," Li Changjiang, the head of China's top quality watchdog, was quoted as saying.

Li made his comments late Friday during a telephone conversation with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday it would detain Chinese catfish, basa and dace, as well as shrimp and eel after repeated testing turned up contamination with drugs that have not been approved in the United States for use in farmed seafood.

U.S. officials said there have been no reports of illnesses or evidence to suggest the products pose any immediate health risk. They stopped short of ordering a ban on the fresh and frozen seafood.

The action comes amid a slew of consumer alerts by U.S. federal regulators over lead paint in Chinese-made toy trains, defective tires from the eastern city of Hangzhou, and imported Chinese toothpaste made with diethylene glycol, a toxic ingredient more commonly found in antifreeze.

The safety scandals have put at risk surging Chinese agricultural exports to the United States, which reached US$2.26 billion last year, led by poultry products, sausage casings, shellfish, spices and apple juice.

Li, the head of China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said there were a "handful of Chinese seafood enterprises" that had problems with quality control but that this did not warrant the blanket detention of all Chinese exports of those types of seafood, Xinhua reported.

He told Leavitt some U.S. exports to China also had quality issues and that the two sides should properly resolve such problems by cooperating more closely.

Earlier this week, China announced it had seized shipments of U.S.-made orange pulp and dried apricots containing high levels of bacteria and preservatives.

According to the Xinhua report, Li told Leavitt that China "attaches great importance to the safety of its food exports" and had already taken steps to deal with the problematic seafood. The report did not say if he outlined specific measures.

"China and the United States must join hands to ensure the safety of their two-way food trade," the report quoted Li as saying.

Leavitt was quoted as saying the U.S. would send a team to China soon to negotiate a solution to the seafood matter.

The FDA said sampling of Chinese imported fish between October and May repeatedly found traces of the antibiotics nitrofuran and fluoroquinolone, as well as the antifungals malachite green and gentian violet.

Under the new restrictions, the FDA will allow individual shipments of the seafood types if a company can show the products are free of residues of these drugs.