March 05, 2009
China's new food safety law must
provide courts with real enforcement authority
Source of Article: http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/hotline/2009/03/chinas-new-food-safety-law-must-provide.php
Bill Marler [Managing Partner, Marler
Clark LLP, PS]: "China's recently
enacted "Food Safety Law" is, at least on paper, a significant
leap forward in terms of proactive food safety measures designed to prevent
crises before they happen. Provisions contained in the Law, such as creating
a system to recall problem products, nationwide standards for allowable
additives, and creating a schedule of fines for violators of the new
provisions are certainly all steps in the right direction. One is left to
wonder, however, how effectively the measures will be enforced.
Recent food-related health scares in China have erupted despite
preexisting legal measures aimed at deterring manufacturers from adulterating
their food products. The Product
Quality Control Law, enacted in 1993, in theory established a product liability
legal scheme on par with laws in the United States. The Quality
Control Law, however, was of little use to the families of the nearly 300,000
infants sickened in the 2008 melamine-contaminated infant formula crisis due
to the fact that Chinese courts simply refused to hear any of the filed
cases. Similarly, the 2007 criminal trial and subsequent execution
of Zheng Xiaoyu, the
former director of the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration, appears to
have done little to deter government corruption in food crises.
Despite these past failures, the new Food Safety Law provides a necessary
bookend in the Chinese food safety scheme. Just as the Product Quality
Control Law was designed to react to product safety disasters, by allowing
victims of such disasters some recourse against negligent manufacturers, the
Food Safety Law aims to prevent food safety disasters before they happen.
Still, for the sake of the Chinese public, let's hope that the elephant in
the room - Chinese courts' lack of enforcement authority - is finally
addressed and resolved with the enactment of the Food Safety Law. The stakes
are simply too high at this point for the government to generate false enforcement
measures, aimed at restoring consumer confidence, and then go back to
conducting business as usual."
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