Saturday, July 14, 2007

Damage Control

(All emphases by Always On Watch)

From this article in the July 14, 2007 edition of the Washington Post:
...[I]n recent days, the government has gone on the offensive. It is issuing almost daily statements saying how much it is doing to improve food and consumer safety. On July 3, it reported it was stepping up anti-corruption efforts. On July 4, it said it would ban firms that advertise medical claims that have not been approved by the government. On July 5 it said it was working on the country's first food recall system....
Not here in the United States. In China.
Faced with mounting international concern over the safety of some of the products it exports, the Chinese government --often perceived as defensive and clumsy in how it handles public relations -- is firing back.

In Washington, China has put together a team of lobbyists who have been practically living on Capitol Hill for the past few weeks. In Beijing, the government has taken the unusual step of seeking advice from outsiders, including public relations powerhouses Ogilvy and Edelman, about how to get positive messages out to Chinese and American consumers.

The result has been an aggressive campaign to save the ""Made in China" label by presenting an alternate view on consumer safety and globalization. The message is that China isn't the only country that has had problems with the products it exports. China, as government officials have been pointing out in recent days, rejects U.S. imports at a rate that is just a little less than the 1 percent of Chinese products rejected by the United States.

"China feels it is getting beaten up for things that are happening on a reciprocal basis to them," said Scott Kronick, head of Ogilvy's China practice.

At the same time, the Chinese government is trying to show that it is taking seriously recent recalls by making examples of individuals and companies that allegedly contributed to the problems. The recalls have included pet food laced with an industrial chemical, toys coated with lead paint, defective tires and toothpaste made with toxic chemicals.
According to this recent article in Time Magazine, concerns about catfish and seafood have now arisen:
Joey Tatum runs a Mississippi-delta eatery where catfish is king--and its origin clear. U.S. FARM RAISED, the menu of Fat Baby's proclaims. "There's no Chinese catfish in my restaurant," Tatum says. "Everyone knows they're not safe."

That's up to the FDA to decide, and over the years, its border inspectors have rejected tons of tainted catfish from China and closely monitored shipments by chronic offenders. Last month Mississippi officials decided to test Chinese catfish to see how good those controls are and found them wanting. Most grocery-store samples contained residues of two antibiotics that are banned for use in aquaculture in the U.S. but widely used in China. The catfish was ordered off store shelves.

These holes in the safety net are alarming public-health experts. China is the No. 1 exporter of seafood to the U.S.-- $2 billion worth last year--and has a troubling rate of violations. In 2006 nearly two-thirds of the seafood shipments that were turned back from U.S. ports because of residues of FDA-nonapproved drugs came from China, reported Food & Water Watch. The residues included malachite green, which kills fungus on fish--and causes tumors in lab rats.
The FDA is stepping up inspections of Chinese seafood. Still, only 5% of the 55,000 shipments last year were examined. Don Kraemer, the FDA's deputy director for food safety, acknowledged that border controls are not "completely airtight. But we've got a credible effort here to keep the products that would be of concern out of the country."

Aggressive exporters aren't easily daunted, though. The FDA, for example, strictly limits imports of puffer fish, which can contain a deadly toxin if processed improperly. After two Chicagoans got sick last month from eating what they thought was monkfish, the FDA began investigating whether a Chinese exporter had tried to sneak in puffer fish by labeling it monkfish.
Continuing now with the Washington Post article:
The [Chinese] government has played up the fact that Zheng Xiaoyu, country's former chief food and drug regulator, was executed this week and that 180 factories that put industrial chemicals into food have been shut down.

The approach represents a radical shift from how China has disseminated information in the past. Since the Communist Party rose to power in 1949, the job of propaganda offices has been largely to promote such slogans as "Serve the People" and "It is Good to Have Just One Child," which were written on chalkboards on almost every block.

Now the propaganda offices are being pushed to respond to breaking news and criticism from foreign governments and consumers half a world away.


Dan Harris, a U.S.-based attorney who runs a popular China law blog and represents small to mid-sized companies doing business with China,...predicted it would take years, if not decades, to undo the damage done to the reputation of Chinese manufacturers in recent months. "My view is that no matter what they say they are going to do and no matter how much they want to do it, the problem is so massive and so deep-seated that I think it's going to take huge amounts of money and a very long time for it to be cleaned up," he said.
What folly it has been for the United States to expect quality-control from a Communist nation! How many more products and exports from China will turn out to pose a danger to consumers?

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posted by Always On Watch @ 7/14/2007 07:58:00 AM