Revisions to food safety laws 'urgently' needed: China watchdog

PHOTO: Revisions to food safety laws 'urgently' needed: China watchdog

China is considering revisions to its Food Safety Law, according to its top food and drug regulator.

An official from China Food and Drug Administration, who preferred to remain anonymous, told China Daily that the administration has gathered opinions from experts on revising the Food Safety Law. However, no specific timetable was revealed.

Amendment of the current Food Safety Law, which took effect in June 2009, is "urgently necessary" as some of its articles fail to meet the changes of the food safety situation, such as the adjustment of food safety supervision and the development of food industry and technology, the administration revealed in a statement released on June 6 on its website.

Liu Peizhi, deputy director of China Food and Drug Administration, said revisions may include harsher punishments for law violations and new regulations on areas uncovered by the current law, such as online food businesses.

"Work on the Food Safety Law revisions should start soon," added Li Shichun, president of China Law Society's food safety law committee. "Revising the law will be a major step (in the improvement of China's food safety)."

A major reason revisions are needed is to help cope with changes in the food safety supervision mechanism, he said.

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," Li said.

Prior to the new administration, 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, according to Dong Jinshi, food safety expert and vice-president of the International Food Packaging Association.

After amendment, the law may give clearer definition of responsibilities to the departments, including Ministry of Agriculture and General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, added Li.

China's media has been hit frequently in recent years with food safety scandals, many of which have aroused public outrage.

The melamine incident in 2008, in which poisonous melamine was added 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, arousing suspicion of the use of gutter oil in many restaurants and drug manufacturers.

The recent occurrences are largely attributed to lack of creditability and legal awareness of food enterprises, according to a statement from the China Food and Drug Administration.

Lenient punishment and lack of supervision also worsened the situation.

Many experts have also called for intensified law enforcement and severe punishment for food safety violations, while others blame the lack of enforcement on unfair protections from local governments.

Some areas have even designated more than 15 days a month, during which quality supervision authorities are not allowed to conduct inspections, according to a statement from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

A sound market order is crucial to improve food safety, according to Li from the China Law Society.

"Lack of order in the market also leads to many other problems," he said. "Writing laws alone will not solve food safety problems."

Shan Juan and Zhao Yinan contributed to this story.

Shanghai takes measures

The food safety situation in Shanghai remains stable, orderly and under control, according to the local food safety watchdog on Friday.

The municipality has been beefing up its efforts to crack down on food safety crimes, with a total of 108 criminal suspects seized from January to May, involving 20 million yuan ($3.23 million), said the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration.

In addition, it has kicked off a special checkup for healthcare foods, especially those that claim to be effective for weight-loss, boosting energy and relieving hypertension.

Moreover, a blacklist system introduced by the administration has so far barred 11 companies for violations of food safety rules and regulations.

During a planned food safety publicity week, Shanghai will launch a series of educational campaigns to further promote food safety public awareness

Checkups will also be launched in supermarkets and restaurants in the metropolis to ensure safer and healthier dining.

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