New models to ensure food safety

Updated: 2011-12-10 09:25

By Cao Yin and Zhou Wenting (China Daily)

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Community inspectors see results, vice-premiers in call for action

BEIJING - With State leaders adding their voices to calls for tougher measures on food safety, cities nationwide are seeing the benefits of pilot projects designed to get the grassroots of society more involved in reporting conflicts.

Vice-Premiers Li Keqiang and Hui Liangyu have both recently issued instructions to local authorities, urging them to make "forceful" and "resolute" efforts to boost consumer confidence and promote social harmony.

It is being taken as a sign of just how important the issue of food safety has become in China following the uncovering of several scandals, including tainted baby formula and recycled cooking waste, commonly known as "gutter oil".

However, the situation has already prompted many cities and provinces to look at new models of oversight and enforcement. Yichang, the second-largest city in Central China's Hubei province, is one of them.

In March, officials split the city into 1,100 management sections, with each being assigned community workers charged with detecting and reporting faulty foods in markets and stores, and providing residents with the latest safety information.

"I go around on inspections twice a day," said food investigator Yi Junli, who reports directly to the city's market watchdog. "I mainly cover commercial centers (in the Wanda area) and check the information on foodstuffs on sale, such as production dates and packaging."

Investigators are told that if they find problems or illegal practices, they should send photos or text messages with the government-issued smartphones to an online reporting center.

On the day China Daily caught up with Yi, the 31-year-old said that just an hour after she uploaded pictures of a dispute between a customer and a supermarket salesperson over out-of-date cookies, enforcement agents arrived to confiscate the entire batch of the food.

In addition to the investigators, residents can also report food safety incidents and get a reward, Yuan Hong, director general of the Yichang Industry and Commerce Administration, said at a legal forum focusing on food safety on Friday.

"The pilot will be extended to counties, towns and villages," he said, adding: "We'll also be cooperating with the media to establish a website for releasing details on illegal productions next year."

Beichen, a suburban district in Tianjin, has also been experimenting with a new supervision model for food production since the beginning of the year.

Officials there established a three-tier regulatory network that includes supervisors at the district's quality watchdog, coordinators in every town and information clerks in each of its 162 villages.

Hou Binsheng, who is Tianjin's deputy director of food production supervision, explained: "It's like dividing an area into small grids. We have stewards in every section, and they contribute to oversight without leaving any gaps."

Data provided by the city authority showed that, as of September, 62 food manufactures were closed down, 66 more placed under investigation, and 16 unlicensed small workshops were shuttered.

"The data this year is equal to the total number of cases detected in all previous years," said Zhao Haihang, director of quality and technical supervision in Tianjin's Beichen district.

Experts have welcomed the renewed efforts to promote food safety, saying the interactive regulatory approach gives the public a better understanding and gets them more involved.

However, authorities have been urged not to forget an important factor: training.

"They (community inspectors) must not only know about the food industry and community, they must also show integrity, wisdom and courage to crack down on faulty products," said Dong Jinshi, executive vice-president of the International Food Packaging Association.

"They should be credible. They should come from all walks of life, and represent the interests of consumers," he added.

Xinhua contributed to this story