No need for BYO, our food is safe - Chinese say

Dust may have coloured the hazy Beijing sky yellow, but not the tiniest particle of it is tolerated when it comes to making sure that all Olympic food is safe to eat. ( dpa )

"No dust," insisted one of the lab members at the ultramodern Beijing Municipal Centre for Food Safety Monitoring during a media tour on Tuesday, fearing for the institution's accurate results.

Confronted with reports that the US delegation was bringing at least part of its own food to the August 8-24 Beijing Olympics, local officials sent a clear message that a) Chinese food is safe and b) local laws apply in this country.

"We do not encourage athletes to bring their own food, but if they do so it has to be facilitated according to our rules and regulations," the monitoring centre's spokeswoman Tang Yunhua said.

She said anyone who chose to bring their own food to the Games would have to make sure its legal to import - and that it would be under the same scrutiny as local products.

Tang had earlier explained at length that the dim sums, ducks and other local specialities were safe to eat for the more than 10,000 athletes in the Olympic village, but also for the expected 500,000 Olympic visitors in the city and its residents.

"It is safe to eat in the streets," said Tang.

Over the past years some food in China was found tainted with insecticides and illegal veterinary drugs, and meat standards were also lower than in other countries.

US Olympic authorities became cautious when a caterer for the delegation found a chicken in a supermarket with high steroid levels.

Eating this chicken could have caused a positive doping test at the Olympics under the strict reliability programme from the World Anti-Doping Agency - under which every athlete is responsible for everything he or she eats and drinks.

Tang says that food safety, not only at the Olympics but in general, has been top of the agenda for the municipal government in the past six years.

Every food producer, every piece of livestock, every number plate of trucks transporting food-related items, every restaurant menu and amount of food consumed there every night is known to local authorities.

Some 8,000 controllers, various government agencies, GPS tracking, aerial photography, video and other evidence are used in the Beijing area alone to make the production and consumption safe.

The Olympic division of the food monitoring system will oversee every nutrition-related item for the Olympic village and other Olympic areas.

"We can track everything to its origins," she said.

Citizens are encouraged to report poor quality food in restaurants and elsewhere, and Olympic visitors will be able to call an English-language hotline in the case of problems during the Games.

The modern laboratory can trace everything from pesticide residues to additives, drug residue and heavy metals.

During the tour the lab staff was quietly doing its business, in sharp contrast to the bustling street markets with its large number of food vendors in the Chinese capital.

The scheme is a major leap forward in China's development, just like the construction works going on all around town, cleaner water and less pollution.

"We want quality food in remote areas as well," said Tang.

While the US seems hesitant to trust the Chinese produce at the Olympics, other countries have no such fears.

"The German Olympic committee will ship no food to its Olympic team. We trust (the Chinese) that safety of food products is fully given," said Stefan Volknant, a spokesman for the German Olympic committee.

Britain also plans no food imports and neither does Spain.

"We have the IOC guarantee that the food will fulfill all the standards. And the Chinese athletes will eat the same food, that shows something," said Spanish Olympic committee spokesman Jose Maria Bellon.

Polish bobsledder Mariusz Latkowski, meanwhile, knew it all the way - judging by a comment on food quality problems at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.

"I think the food is good, especially the Chinese food," he said.

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