TEXT OF INTERVIEW
SCOTT JAGOW: The Food and Drug Administration is sending inspectors to China. The FDA’s trying to get to the bottom of this pet food scare — specifically, how a chemical called melamine got into the wheat gluten used in pet food. China has banned the chemical, but denies any link to the deaths of cats and dogs in North America. Let’s bring in our Shanghai correspondent Scott Tong. Scott, how seriously is the Chinese government taking this?
SCOTT TONG: Well the government is promising to be fairly aggressive on this. They’re requiring the companies in this industry, this grain processing industry, to register with the government, and they’re promising that on the export side they’re going to be looking for this chemical that’s been suspected in the death of these pets in the United States. So they’re going after it fairly aggressively.
JAGOW: How easy or difficult will it be to keep track of this chemical?
TONG: It will be challenging. I spoke to one Chinese wheat industry representative who said if you want to add a chemical like melamine, which is suspected here, it’s easy to add and it’s hard to trace. The other thing that is easy for the suspected bad guys to do is to game the shipping side of this. The Chinese government assumes that the firms in question basically lied about what was in the crates and a shipping industry person told me that happens a fair amount of the time. The incentive for the customs officials who are supposed to inspect these crates is to keep pushing out the exports for China and to inspect the imports very carefully.
JAGOW: Do you have any sense about why China is doing this? Is it international pressure or within China is this also getting a lot of attention?
TONG: Well the international spotlight is clearly on them now. The Beijing government is trying very hard to improve the reputation of the Made in China label. They don’t want to just be known as the world’s assembler of low-end stuff. So the sense is that they have to get it right here. Domestically there is a lot of anger here in China. A couple years back there was a case of adulterated baby formula and several infants died from that. There have been a lot of cases and there seems to be a lot of anxiety in the public here. One food industry watcher told me that you can go into a small Chinese grocery store here and maybe 30, 40 percent of what’s on the shelves may be suspect ni one way or the other.
JAGOW: Yikes, yeah that’s pretty disturbing. Alright Scott Tong, our correspondent in Shanghai, thanks.
TONG: OK thanks Scott.
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