China Adopts Food Safety Law

CHINA - The country's first law on food safety was adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress last week.
calendar icon 3 March 2009
clock icon 3 minute read

The 158 votes for, three votes against and four abstentions reflect the lawmakers' great expectations of the role the law will play in regulating the food industry, according to official sources.

Seven reviews by the plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC), four readings by its standing committee, and with more than 10,000 suggestions from the general public since it was presented to the NPC in 2007, speak volumes for the importance the NPC attaches to this legal code.

Repeated food safety incidents, such as problematic duck eggs, chilly sauce containing poisonous additives, and in particular melamine-contaminated baby formula, has heightened the importance of this law and the general public's expectations.

Its predecessor, called the Food Sanitation Law, was adopted in 1995. The replacement of the word 'sanitation' with 'safety' reflects the need for a greatly expanded food industry to be well regulated, not only for consumers' sake but also for the sector's healthy development.

The fact food safety watchdogs have been behind accidents in past years has revealed the slack state of monitoring.

The national food safety committee, which the new law will establish, along with a national food risk assessment committee, will be expected to tighten controls.

According to the law, this will follow the entire process from growing crops and raising stock and poultry to the manufacture of food products.

Some food safety accidents occurred because the country's related standards are outdated.

The new law stipulates that the State health department must make unified national standards for raw agricultural products, food sanitation and quality of manufactured food products.

What is noteworthy is the heavier penalties the law has meted out for violations in food manufacturing.

Fines for offenders now stand at five times the problematic food item's potential profit. But the fines will be bumped up to 10 times their value, says the new law, which will take effect from 1 June.

The new stipulation about food additives also makes a lot of sense as it stresses they should never be used unless necessary to improve the quality of the food. Even if the additives do no harm to consumers' health, their random use will still constitute a violation.

Dairy manufacturer Mengniu previously did the wrong thing by adding an additive to one of its milk products.

It is unrealistic to hope that the adoption of this law will immediately change the landscape of food safety.

It will, however, hopefully initiate a crusade against sub-standard or even illegal practices in the food-manufacturing industry and other related trades.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.
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