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China to step up inspection of fish farms in crackdown on illegal use of drugs, chemicals

    BEIJING — China said Wednesday it will inspect fish farms across the country to guard against use of illegal drugs and chemicals, but insisted the majority of its seafood products were safe.
    The move, part of Beijing’s latest efforts to woo back international customers after a series of safety scares, comes as a team of U.S. health officials met with Chinese officials to discuss stricter controls on food and drug trade and increasing cooperation to improve product safety.
    Beijing has said the talks, led by U.S. Health and Human Services official Rich McKeown, will also focus on a U.S. block of Chinese catfish, basa, dace, shrimp and eel after repeated testing turned up contamination by drugs that have not been approved in the United States for farmed seafood.
    Besides inspections, the new measures will include the blacklisting of violators and better education and training for producers, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported, citing Chen Yide, vice-director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s fisheries bureau.
    Chen blamed drug residues found in seafood on unscrupulous producers and repeated Beijing’s stance that U.S. restrictions on the five types of seafood were ‘‘indiscriminate’’ and ‘‘unacceptable.’’
    ‘‘It’s against the rules of the World Trade Organization to block all products for problems found in individual products,’’ he was quoted as saying.
    He added that 95 percent of Chinese aquatic products met food safety standards, with a higher percentage of export products qualifying because of tougher inspection regulations. He did not specify that percentage.
    International worries about Chinese exports have been mounting since a pet food ingredient from China was blamed in the deaths of cats and dogs in North America, triggering recalls and bans around the world.
    U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who ended two days of trade talks with Chinese leaders in Beijing on Wednesday, said his discussions touched on consumer product safety and food safety but he gave no details.
    In the past two weeks, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled six Chinese-made products, from Easy-Bake ovens, whose doors trapped dozens of children’s fingers or burned them, to remote control airplanes that can potentially explode.
    While the Chinese government was initially leery of acknowledging its ongoing problems with food and drug safety, it has since announced new measures, regulations and inspections almost daily.
    A regulation introduced Tuesday in Beijing will hold district and county governments in the capital responsible for food safety violations, the China Daily said.
    ‘‘Officials will be punished for improper management or dereliction of duty,’’ the newspaper said, and will ‘‘also be held accountable for failing to plug food safety loopholes in time or for inflicting severe consequences by not dealing with illegal activities.’’
    Legal measures will be taken if there are food-related fatalities and ‘‘blame will be pinned on food manufacturers and sellers if they hide, lie or delay the reports of food safety accidents,’’ the paper said, citing the regulation.
    China’s lucrative but poorly regulated pharmaceutical industry, where companies try to cash in by substituting fake or substandard ingredients, has also been under stricter surveillance.
    The former head of China’s State Food and Drug Administration was executed last month for taking bribes and gifts in exchange for approving substandard medications for the domestic market, including an antibiotic blamed in the deaths of at least 10 people. Although Zheng Xiaoyu was investigated before the latest safety scandals, his punishment was swift and unusually harsh.

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