US President George W. Bush has set up a high-level government panel to look at ways of improving food safety to boost US policing of imports.

The move comes after a series of product safety scares in the US with a number of Chinese imports found to violate US safety standards.

The White House, however, denied the panel – dubbed the Interagency Working Group on Import Safety – was aimed directly at China.

“This is not a slap at China,” White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters yesterday (18 July). “This is in fact a normal piece of business. We get food imports from 150 countries around the world. It’s important to monitor them all.”

The formation of the panel, to be headed by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, also follows fierce criticism of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

US politicians have questioned the ability of the FDA to police food imports into the country, as well domestically-produced products.

Some politicians are calling for wholesale reform of how food safety is regulated in the light of recent food scares in the US and concerns over imports from China.

Senator Richard Durbin from Illinois has been campaigning for the integration of food safety into a single, coherent agency.

“Under current US law, food safety monitoring, inspection and labeling functions are spread across 12 federal agencies and sub-agencies and are governed by approximately 35 different laws,” Durbin told just-food last month.

“Under the current framework, turf battles, overlap, inconsistencies and coordination problems are inevitable. My legislation, the Safe Food Act, would create a single, independent food safety agency within the Executive Branch to administer and enforce food safety laws.”

There is also concern in the US about the level of government funding given to the FDA.