From: Reuters
Published March 3, 2008 09:03 AM

China reports big rise in food-poisoning deaths

BEIJING (Reuters) - China saw a rise of almost a third in food-poisoning deaths last year even as the total number of incidents dropped, the Health Ministry said on Monday, underscoring the food safety challenge China still faces.

China has been waging battle to improve product quality after a series of scandals at home and abroad involving substandard toys, fake medicines and food, as well as tainted pet feed.

A total of 258 people died from food poisoning last year, up a little under 32 percent on 2006, the ministry-published Health News said.

There were also 11 cases in which more than 100 people fell ill from food poisoning, but a fall of just over a quarter in total incidents, it added.

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In all, 13,280 people fell sick, the report said.

While providing no explanation for the figures, it said that most cases happened in the third quarter of the year.

"This is when there is a rather obvious impact from the weather," the newspaper said, adding most people fell sick at home.

The government has gone out of its way to tackle food safety and to convince people, particularly this year when Beijing hosts the Summer Olympics, that the made-in-China label is reliable.

But Beijing has admitted that the problems are most pronounced in China's vast countryside, where lax oversight of the many small factories located there has contributed to a string of food poisoning incidents.

Public fears about food safety grew in 2004 when at least 13 babies died of malnutrition in the eastern province of Anhui after their were fed fake milk powder.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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