BEIJING (AP) — China will step up food safety efforts in the wake of a massive dairy scandal, expanding supervision to reach more of the country's countless small farms, an agriculture official said Wednesday.
China has been struggling for several years to overcome a series of food safety problems, including one that started two years ago when at least six children died and nearly 300,000 children fell ill after consuming tainted infant formula.
Vice Minister of Agriculture Wei Chao'an told a news conference that agricultural officials at all levels are working this year "to prevent any large-scale food safety crises."
The difficulty the government faces can be seen by the fact the tainted milk problem has lingered on, with new cases appearing last year because old batches of tainted products were not destroyed after the 2008 scandal.
Wei said China was working to bring more farms under better supervision, a challenge in a vast country where some rural areas are still very poor.
"Our agricultural products overall are safe and of high quality, but we must also recognize that while we transition from traditional to modern farming, many of our operations remain scattered, production methods are still backward and our supervision lags behind," Wei said.
A statement from the ministry handed out at the news conference said the government promises to "implement quality and safety monitoring programs targeting raw and fresh milk, and strengthen supervision of purchase stations for raw and fresh milk."
The tainted formula was made from milk that had been deliberately contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine in order to fool inspectors testing for protein content.
Melamine, which can cause kidney stones and kidney failure, is used to make plastics and fertilizers, has also been found added to pet food and animal feed.
Despite tightened regulations and increased inspections on producers, melamine-tainted milk products have recently shown up repackaged in several places around the country, exposing weaknesses in China's promises to better police the food chain.