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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 July 2007, 22:35 GMT 23:35 UK
Bush tackles scares over imports
Catfish in China (file picture)
US authorities have blocked imports of some Chinese fish and seafood
US President George W Bush has set up a panel to look at the safety of food and other products imported into the US.

The measure follows a series of scares in the US involving fish, seafood, toothpaste, toys and tyres from China.

The White House has denied the move is aimed specifically at China, saying it is important to check all imports.

Beijing has accused foreign media of exaggerating problems with Chinese products, but has admitted that safety standards need to improve.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also faced criticism over its ability to monitor the safety of goods consumed in the US.

Political backlash

The Import Safety Working Group is due to report back to Mr Bush with its recommendations in 60 days.

Speaking after his first meeting with the panel, Mr Bush said: "Food safety and consumer safety is a serious issue.

Pet food - tainted with chemical melamine
Toothpaste - tainted with chemical diethylene glycol and bacteria
Farmed fish - traces of banned drugs and pesticides found
Tyres - fault may cause blow-outs
Toys - contain lead or pose choking hazard
Children's jewellery - contains lead
Ceramic heaters - pose fire safety risk
Source: FDA and US Consumer Product Safety Commission

"The American people expect their government to work tirelessly to make sure consumer products are safe."

The panel's chairman, Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, told reporters: "The world is changing a great deal and Americans have an expectation that the products they buy are safe."

But Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, who has called for an "import czar" to oversee all products brought into the US, said it did not seem like the "full-bore effort" that was needed, Reuters news agency reports.

White House spokesman Tony Snow earlier dismissed the suggestion that Beijing would be offended by the move.

"This is not a slap at China," he said. "This is in fact a normal piece of business and we get food imports from 150 countries around the world and it's important to monitor them all."

The safety of Chinese products has come under question in the US following a series of alerts and product recalls.

In one case, 1.5 million toy trains were recalled after they were found to be coated in paint containing lead, which can be toxic to children if ingested.

The FDA also last month halted the import of five types of farmed fish and seafood from China until they can be proven to be free of harmful chemicals and drugs banned in the US.

Meanwhile, a political backlash in the US against the spiralling US trade deficit with China has led to calls in Congress for tighter controls on imports.

Official executed

The situation has heightened tensions between the two nations over trade.

Chickens in Chinese factory. File pic
China has banned some US meat products it says are unsafe
Beijing announced that its officials would meet with teams from the FDA at the end of July to discuss the block on imports of fish and seafood.

At the same time, Beijing has imposed a suspension on some US meat imports and has defended a Chinese tyre maker accused in the US of exporting faulty products.

China has also taken steps to show it is taking the issue of quality control seriously.

The former head of the State Food and Drug Administration was executed last week for corruption, while high-profile inspections of manufacturing plants have taken place.

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