President Stresses Food Safety as Top Priority

CHINA - “Top priority” is the expression President Hu Jintao used when referring to the quality of food testing.
calendar icon 5 May 2011
clock icon 3 minute read

The President was visiting Tianjin municipality, and the statement points directly to the root cause of the country's food safety problems, reports an official source.

The failure on the part of food safety watchdogs to give the issue the same weight has been exposed as one of the major reasons why low quality, tainted, or adulterated food can make its way onto residents' dining tables.

Clearly those who add banned chemicals into the food they produce should be brought to justice. In the latest case, 14 criminals were sentenced to different prison terms for their part in the production of tainted powdered milk or baby formulas in North China's Shanxi and Hebei provinces last week.

However, the 53 government officials and food inspection officers involved were only given administrative disciplinary punishments with the most serious being demoted and dismissed from their positions.

Statistics show that four cases of tainted powdered milk were dealt with in the four months from July 2010 until January this year, 96 criminals were arrested while 191 government officials and food safety officers received disciplinary punishments.

To be frank, administrative disciplinary punishments, such as warnings, demotions or dismissals from posts, are necessary but they should never replace the criminal penalties such dereliction of duty deserves.

In addition, investigations into the problematic pork by reporters show that some food inspectors receive money from pig farmers to let pigs fed with banned additives pass the tests. Administrative disciplinary punishments are not severe enough to deter food safety watchdogs from flouting the rules for personal gain.

Administrative punishments alone for food safety officers send the message that some local governments fail to regard food safety with the same importance as President Hu does. Some even argue that it is impossible for food quarantine and inspection officers to check all the food entering the market.

True, random checking may fail to prevent some problematic foods from entering the market. Yet, if all food were checked strictly according to the rules, there would not be so much tainted or adulterated food in the market and neither would there be so many criminals, who dare to put non-food-use chemicals into the food they produce.

The food safety battle must be fought on two fronts. Apart from cracking down on the production of tainted or adulterated food, food safety watchdogs involving quarantine and inspection officers at all levels must be given the teeth to bite.

Now even with food safety scandals appearing one after another, there have been very few food safety quarantine and inspection officers who have received criminal penalties. Neither are there new rules for strengthening these watchdogs.

This is where food safety can be made a top priority.

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