Beijing Tightens Food-Safety Laws

New Measures Call for Tougher Penalties and More Oversight

(Wall Street Journal China)



Chinese lawmakers passed new food-safety legislation meant to tighten supervision of manufacturers and impose tougher penalties on those who make bad products as the government seeks to restore public confidence after a spate of problems with tainted food.


The new law, approved by the standing committee of the National People's Congress on Saturday after years of drafting and revision, also sets up a system to recall problem products and authorizes the enforcement of uniform nationwide standards for everything from allowable additives to nutritional labeling.


Last year, six children were killed and nearly 300,000 others were sickened after being fed milk powder that had been adulterated with melamine, a toxic industrial chemical. Melamine contamination of dairy products was discovered to be widespread. Farmers and traders had added it to raw milk to fool quality tests.


How effectively China maintains the safety of its food supply is also increasingly important to consumers in other countries as Chinese ingredients end up in foodstuffs sold around the world. Between 2004 and 2007, Chinese food exports climbed about 63%.


United Nations public-health experts last year called for an overhaul of China's food-safety system, saying that the country's "disjointed" approach and reliance on a patchwork of various local and national government agencies to police the food supply had contributed to troubles such as the melamine adulteration.


The law passed Saturday aims to streamline regulation, in part by creating a national food-safety commission to coordinate work by other government agencies, and by reducing the number of agencies involved. But responsibility for developing standards and enforcing them will remain split among various ministries.


In a press conference after the law passed, Xin Chunying, deputy director of the legislative affairs commission of the standing committee, said food-safety problems have persisted in China because of flaws in the regulatory framework, coupled with a lack of "social responsibility" on the part of some manufacturers.


Ms. Xin said that the new law "reflects that the party and the state place a lot of value on food safety."


Food safety consistently ranks among the top concerns of Chinese citizens in opinion polls. The government and ruling Communist Party are eager to be seen as protecting the food supply, in the face of regular and well-publicized problems. Late last month, for instance, pig organs contaminated with a banned steroid sickened dozens of people in the southern city of Guangzhou.


Under the new law, which takes effect on June 1, companies that produce substandard products will face higher fines. Those whose licenses are revoked because of illegal conduct will be banned from food manufacturing for five years. Companies also will be legally liable for any harm they cause consumers. Celebrities that endorse faulty products also can be held liable under the new law.


Other provisions of the law require farmers to adhere to safety rules governing the use of pesticides, fertilizers, veterinary drugs and feed additives in growing crops and raising animals. Farmers will also be required to keep detailed records on raising crops and livestock for human consumption.


The standing committee of the National People's Congress, which passed the law, has the power to approve some legislation on its own. The entire congress is set to begin its annual session later this week. 3-02-09



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