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China’s new food safety law: Can we do that?

15 June 2009 1,954 views No Comment

The long-awaited new Food Safety Law, which was approved by the Standing Committee of the Eleventh National People’s Congress, went into effect on June 1, 2009. After a series of food scandals in China, the new law will undoubtedly not be able to allay domestic food product problems in one fell swoop.

The new law does show, however, that the government is intent on taking extreme measures against companies producing contaminated foods. Last year, with the Sanlu scandal, at least six babies died and 300,000 others fell ill because of poisonous milk powder. It was the most serious tainted food incident in China in recent years.

In the last few decades, China has implemented at least 20 food safety laws and 190 relevant regulations, and assigned 35 commissions to supervise the food industry. Yet even with so many regulations and laws, China still lacks effective supervision and enforcement. Confusion often occurs during implementation of the regulations, with sometimes strict and sometimes loose enforcement utilized by the regulatory authorities.

According to Professor Zheng from the Department of Agricultural Economy at China Renmin University, although the new law adds more punishments for offenders, it does not specify how to follow up on the tainted foods produced by more than 500,000 food-processing plants. Routine and sample inspections are almost useless because many people from different industries are involved in food processing operations, and many additives are purposefully added into the foods by illegal producers. Prof Zheng thought that the government should be focusing on resolving the remaining legal loopholes.

It has been reported in the media that 60% of people on the mainland do not believe that the new Food Safety Law will represent a substantial improvement on food safety. Nevertheless, the government has committed itself to implement a food recall system and has increased fines for infringements by up to ten times the original value of the contaminated products. It has also set up a new assessment center which will focus on identifying food safety problems at an early stage. Yet despite the stringent new law, many netizens in China doubt whether the new regulations will be completely successful, as a lot of the food safety problems are more directly associated with the failure of effective control and supervision on the part of health regulatory authorities.

While the new law is certainly a step forward, the process of helping the public establish complete confidence in the domestic food industry will not be a short process, and there’s still some distance to cover.

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