18 September 2018
Food safety remains a pressing concern in China. Photo: Bloomberg
Food safety remains a pressing concern in China. Photo: Bloomberg

POLICY WATCH: More teeth for food safety law

Food safety is a recurrent concern in China, given the array of scandals in recent years over tainted products ranging from baby food to meat and cooking oils, to name just a few. As people’s anger grows and the nation continues to suffer negative publicity overseas, authorities are scrambling to overhaul the regulatory framework and wield a bigger stick against errant entities and individuals. 

In the latest move, the government is seeking to give more bite to the nation’s food safety law to enable harsher punishments for anyone involved in food adulteration or failing to meet the required quality standards.

The Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council on Oct. 29 kicked off a public consultation to solicit opinions on a draft amendment to the food safety law that will come down more heavily on those indulging in malpractices or are guilty of lapses.

Under the proposed revision to the law, food companies and local government authorities will have to bear more responsibility for any shortcomings in food safety. Officials should step up supervision and seek innovative ways to monitor the system, while strengthening the public’s role in ensuring food safety, among other aspects.

The initiative is not surprising as food contamination scandals have been making it to the news headlines regularly in the past few years, The baby food incident in 2008, in which some dairy firms were found to have added toxic melamine to milk to make it seem rich in protein during quality tests, left 300,000 babies sick and caused six deaths nationwide.

Recycled edible oil has also been a target of police actions as some unscrupulous restaurant operators were using the so-called gutter oil to cut costs. Spurious medicines and drugs, meanwhile, also remain a persistent headache.

The poor quality of domestically produced infant formula has been at the center of public discontent, prompting mainlanders to rush for foreign-made milk formula and causing shortages of milk powder in places such as Hong Kong.

Under the amended law, manufacturers will have to file details of the raw materials, ingredients and labels of their products to food safety administrators, and they will not be allowed to contract the production to other people or repackage original products.

The law also proposes to boost the fines on those violating food safety norms. Errant parties will have to pay a penalty equivalent to 15 to 30 times the amount involved in the misconduct, up from the current five to 10 times. For anyone jailed due to food safety issue, they will not be allowed to work in the field again. Head of food risk evaluation institutes will be sacked if they present false evaluation reports.

China streamlined its food safety supervision authorities in March, by promoting the former vice-ministerial level State Food and Drug Administration to a ministerial-level central government department.

The new China Food and Drug Administration is responsible for food safety supervision on a wider range of aspects, including the manufacture and sale of food, which makes food safety supervision easier.

Earlier, food safety supervision and management was handled by many different departments, which resulted in responsibilities being shifted or evaded, and that made law enforcement more difficult, Dong Jinshi {董金獅}, vice-president of the International Food Packaging Association, has said.

The revised law may define more clearly the responsibilities of various government agencies and departments, including the Ministry of Agriculture and the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, experts say.

The current food safety law has been in place for more than four years after it took effect on June 1, 2009. The new draft proposal is open for public feedback until Nov. 29.

– Contact the reporter at [email protected]



EJ Insight writer

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