Shared responsibility

Updated: 2013-07-24 07:22

(China Daily)

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The agriculture ministry has announced that it will build a system to ensure the safety of agricultural products within five years, amid growing public concern about food safety. While the move is a worthy attempt to make our food safe, the nation needs to better coordinate its administrative forces to accelerate the pace of such efforts.

The Ministry of Agriculture said during a national conference on agricultural goods on Monday that the system will mainly focus on the establishment of standards for farm chemicals, so that the amount of chemical residues on agricultural products can be monitored and reduced.

We are hopeful that the ministry will set up the system as scheduled. Given the worrying food safety problems that have emerged in recent years and the increased public awareness of food safety, it is a meaningful first step, one that must be taken as soon as possible.

Thanks to the increasing difficulty of maintaining high output, many farmers have resorted to excessive use of chemicals to increase their harvests and reduce the damage caused by pests to their crops. The resulting growth in the residue of chemicals left on grains and vegetables has thus become a problem that threatens public health.

The efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture alone, however, will be inadequate in tackling the nationwide problem of unsafe food. For example, the ministry can have a hand in managing the quality of agricultural products, but it is beyond its capability to solve the problem of water and soil contamination, both of which have been found responsible for unsafe agricultural produce, such as the rice produced in Hunan province that was recently found to contain excessive amounts of cadmium as a result of pollution.

Han Changfu, the minister of agriculture, rightly pointed out that the contamination is a result of long-term environmental degradation. To tackle that, coordinated efforts from multiple departments, such as agriculture, environmental protection and land and water management, are essential.

Coordinating the many different administrative forces to carry out the complicated program of ensuring food safety will be challenging, as they often have different policy targets, but it is clearly indispensable given the repeated food safety scandals, and no time can be wasted in getting them to work together to guarantee our food is safe.

(China Daily 07/24/2013 page8)