China: Food safety law debate goes on

By Zhu Zhe (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-08-26 11:25

Source of Article:


The Ministry of Health has been given primary responsibility for food safety supervision under the latest draft of the legislation that was yesterday submitted for its second reading to the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee.

The ministry will also shoulder a range of new tasks including risk evaluation, standard setting, accident investigation and information release, the draft of the food safety law said.

Chen Junshi, a senior researcher with the National Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety, said yesterday that while the draft draws clearer lines on responsibility, it fails to tackle the problems with the supervision mechanism.

Currently, at least six government departments are involved with food safety and this leads to overlapping of responsibilities and causes problems with law enforcement, he said.

Chen praised the decision to give overall responsibility for supervision to the health ministry, as responsibility currently lies with the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), which has only vice-ministerial status.

"It's impossible for a vice-ministerial department to coordinate ministries," he said.

"So things may get better after the change."

However, the draft fails to reform the supervision process, he said.

"If this mechanism is not changed, the supervision won't be effective, as coordination among the various government agencies will remain difficult," Chen said.

Under the new draft, the Ministry of Agriculture retains supervision of farm produce, while quality supervision authorities keep responsibility for food processing and industry and commerce departments for food circulation.

This is the first time the draft has made such clear stipulations.

The draft also includes the transfer of responsibility for food safety in the catering sector from the health ministry to the SFDA.

Chen said that while it is difficult to reform the current supervision mechanism, because it will affect the interests of some government departments, the ideal situation is to have a single department responsible for the entire food safety supervision chain, as is the case in the United States.

"The State Council's institutional restructuring in March and the ongoing food safety legislation are both good attempts at making changes, but both have failed, so there is still resistance," he said.

Regardless of the debate, the second draft is unlikely to be passed at this week's NPC session, as Legislation Law states that drafts usually receive three readings before being adopted.

Li Yuan, director of the administrative law division of the NPC Standing Committee's legislative affairs commission, said the revisions are based on the reform plans of the central government departments involved, and that they had been passed by the State Council.

A source told China Daily that the health ministry's reform plan includes a name change for its sanitation supervision bureau to "food safety coordination and sanitation supervision bureau", and that a food safety evaluation committee will be set up.

The reform plan of the SFDA requires the establishment of two new departments: one for food admission and the other for food safety supervision.



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