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New law fights ‘grim’ situation in food safety

3 March 2009 812 views No Comment

CHINA’S food safety situation is still “grim,” but some improvements have been made in the wake of a baby formula scandal last year that killed at least six babies and sickened another 300,000, the Health Ministry said yesterday.

The comments came after China’s legislature enacted a food safety law last Saturday that promised tougher penalties for makers of tainted products after serious flaws were exposed in the monitoring of the nation’s food supply.

“At present, China’s food security situation remains grim, with high risks and contradictions,” the ministry said in a news release, adding that it cannot afford “even the slightest relaxation in supervision.”

The Health Ministry will take the lead among government departments tasked with implementing the new food safety law, Vice Minister of Health Chen Xiaohong told a news conference in Beijing.

Chen said a joint lead group consisting of nine departments has been set up to deal with nationwide food safety supervision.

The Health Ministry will mainly handle food safety monitoring, evaluation and investigation of emergencies, Chen said.

The food safety law, which was five years in the making, consolidates hundreds of disparate regulations and standards covering China’s 500,000 food processing companies. It puts special focus on food additives as a result of the melamine scandal involving baby formula produced by Sanlu Group and other dairy companies.

No additives will be allowed unless they can be proven both necessary and safe, according to the law, which goes into effect on June 1.

Chen said that the additive OMP in milk was safe, but its present import procedure is not legal.

“As far as we know now, OMP is safe and will not affect people’s health,” Chen said.

OMP, or osteoblast milk protein, is not yet listed as a legal food material under current food safety law. Mengniu Dairy, one of the country’s biggest dairy firms, has used it in its product line Milk Deluxe since 2005.

The importer of the additive should submit health effect evaluation documents issued by the health authorities of exporting countries for approval and the products should pass Customs tests, Chen said. “Obviously, Mengniu did not do that.”

Chen said that work to compensate children suffering from melamine-tainted milk powder has concluded. Health department officials nationwide will continue visiting sick children and help them receive medical care, Chen said.

But Health Ministry sources refused to give detailed information about how many families have been compensated or how much they received.

On January 14, the first parents of the child who died of melamine-tainted baby formula received 200,000 yuan (US$28,985) in compensation.

According to the Health Ministry, 296,000 children suffered kidney stones or urinary track problems from the milk powder.

Twenty-two dairy firms contributed 1.1 billion yuan to a fund that covers medical costs and other compensation for the families of the victims. But some families across China said they believe the compensations amounts are not sufficient.

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