Government and Policy

Eyes are on food quality supervision

Updated: 2011-03-11 08:37

By Shan Juan (China Daily)

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Beijing - Tighter supervision and better working efficiency are needed to reduce food contamination and the abuse of additives that is threatening the health of consumers on the mainland, senior food safety officials said on Thursday.

"They are mainly man-made disasters, though a zero risk for food safety doesn't exist anywhere in the world," said Liu Peizhi, deputy director of the executive office of the State Council Food Safety Commission.

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Liu was addressing a panel discussion during the annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee on Thursday.

"The efficiency of the government response to food safety incidents is impaired by the current joint supervision and management of eight administrations," said CPPCC National Committee member Wang Gang.

He proposed that the central government set up a coordinated and integrated food regulatory body.

"The current supervision team is poorly staffed nationwide and needs to further enhance its governance capacity," he said.

For example, in an average Chinese city of 5 million residents, a team of less than 60 oversees all local catering businesses, he noted.

"That's mission impossible for them to detect the risks and respond to a crisis in time."

Given numerous food manufacturers and retailers, "it's hard to locate all potential food safety hazards in the first place," said Vice-Minister of Health Chen Xiaohong. "Food producers should be the first ones accountable for product safety and quality."

Due to limited resources, "we have to target our efforts and improve food safety standards, working efficiencies and cooperation between relative authorities," he noted.

In 2010, the ministry launched a nationwide overhaul aimed at food additives and antibiotics abuses, blacklisting 47 substances illegally added to foods and 22 misused food additives, according to the ministry's official website.

Meanwhile, the ministry in charge of overall coordination will issue a protocol "as early as possible" on how to respond to and investigate food safety incidents, Xinhua reported.

More than 200 proposals related to food and drug safety have been submitted by CPPCC National Committee members.

Li Rong, a CPPCC National Committee member, said better food safety supervision and assessment data will facilitate warnings of potential food hazards among the public and improve work efficiency.

According to current data, only 5 percent of Chinese develop food-borne diseases, far lower than the 30 percent reported in the United States, but "poor monitoring capability leads to a great underestimation in China," Li said.

Since 2009, the Ministry of Health has been working to set up two nationwide surveillance systems over potential food safety risks and food-borne diseases, Chen noted.

"It's a huge task that requires the partnership and coordination of different sectors, and so needs time," he said.

Chai Baorong, a CPPCC National Committee member, suggested the testing for food contamination like excessive pesticide residue and antibiotics be further expanded and improved.

According to Chai, relatively high costs make it difficult to carry out large-scale and routine tests on foods like farm produce.


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