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Inspectors Say Nearly 1 in 5 Chinese Products Substandard

Chinese government inspectors report that nearly one-fifth of the products they examined this year were substandard. The report follows months of increasing publicity over tainted foods and unsafe products made in China and sold both domestically and overseas. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

China's General Administration of Quality, Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine says in the first half of this year more than 19 percent of inspected Chinese products made for domestic consumption failed national quality and safety standards.

The rate of failure among small manufacturers was even worse, at 27 percent. Small manufacturers account for about 75 percent of all food processing operations.

The inspection agency says it surveyed more than 6,000 companies and seven thousand products, focusing mainly on food and consumer goods.

The survey showed the most problematic foods were canned and preserved fruit, dried fish, and noodles made from vegetable starch.

Joanna Brent is the spokeswoman for the World Health Organization in China. She says one of the main problems is that China's food industry is booming but there is no basic food safety law.

"Right now, different laws, different standards are applied to different industries and different areas," Brent said. "It's important to have a single unified food safety law that is consistent across different industries, that can be referred to, to ensure that the same standards are being applied consistently."

China has come under criticism internationally for recent exports of tainted food additives and toothpaste, and unsafe toys and automobile tires.

The United States last week banned imports of several kinds of farm-raised fish, shrimp, and eels from China after repeated testing showed contamination with drugs not approved in the U.S.

Chinese officials say the vast majority of exports are safe. They argue that the media has blown the food safety issue out of proportion and the international community should take a more balanced view of China's food safety situation.

Brent says the WHO would like to see comprehensive testing in China covering all stages of food production.

"The kind of solution we'd like to see developed is what we call a 'farm to the fork' approach to food safety where, on the basis of a careful risk analysis, areas of vulnerability are identified domestically and internationally, and all countries have a role and there is a systematic testing at all points in the supply chain according to those areas of vulnerability," Brent said.

China has vowed to step up quality inspections and improve product safety. This year inspectors closed 180 food factories and seized tons of candy and other foods tainted with illegal and inedible additives.

China has also promised to establish the country's first food recall system by the end of the year.