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China drug regulator says regular meetings with U.S. counterpart will boost safety

BEIJING – China’s food and drug regulator said Wednesday it would meet regularly with its U.S. counterpart to crack down on counterfeit pharmaceuticals and boost product safety.

China is also building new safety testing labs, and upgrading food safety inspection offices at 16 ports and basic infrastructure in central and western China as part of a multiyear, $1.1 billion project, said Yan Jiangying, spokeswoman for the State Food and Drug Administration,

The announcement was one of a series made in recent weeks aimed at allaying global fears that China is not doing enough to guarantee the safety of its food and drug exports.

"China and the U.S. cooperating to fight fake drugs will help us clean up our medicine market," Yan said at a regularly scheduled news conference.

"This is something the world is concerned about," she said.

Chinese-made goods have come under intense scrutiny in recent months and have been banned or recalled in the U.S. and a growing number of countries. Problems have ranged from potentially dangerous levels of toxins or chemicals in seafood to poisonous toothpaste ingredients and tainted dog food components.

On Thursday, China said it had temporarily banned exports by two toy manufacturers whose products were subject to massive recalls in the U.S. and urged them to overhaul their business practices, the government said.

Lee Der Industrial Co. Ltd. and Hansheng Wood Products Factory, both located in the southern province of Guangdong, made toys that were decorated with lead-tainted paint.

Officials at Lee Der and Hansheng said they had not heard about the ban and refused to answer any more questions.

Lee Der made 967,000 toys recalled last week by Mattel Inc. because they were made with paint found to have excessive amounts of lead. The plastic preschool toys, sold under the Fisher-Price brand in the U.S., included the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters.

In June, RC2 Corp. recalled 1.5 million wooden railroad toys and set parts made by Hansheng from its Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway product line because of lead paint.

The government has repeatedly pledged to tighten restrictions and surveillance over the country’s problematic food and drug industries.

The lab-building project was approved by the central government in late 2005, but construction has just recently begun, Yan said. She said progress has been steady, albeit from a low base.

"The foundation is weak and infrastructure and technology still lag behind," Yan said.

"The goal is to raise the levels and ability of supervision of food and drugs," she said. "You may say that there are problems in this area but I think that the safety level is gradually improving."

Yan said the government had held off on announcing the initiative until work got under way.

She said cooperation with the U.S. side would take the form of regular exchanges, but gave no details.

Last week, Beijing and Washington wrapped up their first meeting aimed at resolving safety problems with Chinese products by sharing more information and drafting cooperation agreements by December.

U.S. officials also offered to provide information on how Chinese exporters can show they are obeying safety requirements.

Like China’s food industry, the pharmaceutical field is poorly regulated, with companies trying to cash in by substituting fake or substandard ingredients.

Sending a harsh message that such abuses must end, China last month executed the former head Yan’s department for approving untested and substandard medicines in exchange for cash.

Under Zheng Xiaoyu’s tenure, which ended in 2005, the agency approved six medicines that turned out to be fake, and the drug-makers used falsified documents to apply for approvals. One antibiotic caused the deaths of at least 10 people.