International Conference Pledges Improved Food Safety, Information Exchanges

Delegates from more than 40 nations pledged Tuesday to boost information exchanges on food safety and outbreaks of contamination in response to growing concern about the overall security of the global supply chain.

The agreement came at the conclusion of a two-day international food safety conference in Beijing that brought together experts from the United Nation's World Health Organization and Chinese health and quality officials with representatives from countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan.

The delegates "agreed that food safety is a global issue," Jorgen Schlundt, Geneva-based executive director of the WHO's Food Safety Department, told The Associated Press.

"We have the same concerns in all countries, and we can help each other by sharing experiences between countries and we can help global food safety by sharing the information about food safety events — outbreaks, contamination," he said. "That is something we haven't done very efficiently in the past so it would be a major improvement if we can get that done."

Concerns over the safety of international food chains spiked this year after Chinese exports of products such as pet food ingredients and toothpaste were found to be contaminated with dangerous chemicals.

China responded with a four-month campaign to overhaul safety regulations and enforcement and has grown increasingly defensive about safety issues concerning toys, clothing and other products.

The one-page declaration said countries should share experience and information on food-related disease outbreaks and contamination and "ensure adequate and effective enforcement of food safety legislation."

Li Changjiang, head of host China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, said the agreement followed "ample and heated discussion."

It will be "regarded as the important principle for everyone to observe in future efforts to intensify cooperation in international food safety," Li said.

Monday's opening session of the conference stirred controversy after a top European Union trade official urged China to make product safety a priority and do more to regain consumer confidence, prompting an angry response from Beijing.

China's growing importance as a global exporter has put its troubles with product safety under intense scrutiny after a series of scares over tainted goods, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson had said.

Mandelson's comments riled Vice Premier Wu Yi, the head of a Cabinet-level panel to improve China's product safety, who told reporters she was "very dissatisfied" with his speech.