Govt gets tough on food safety, quality

Updated: 2012-02-10 14:20

By Jin Zhu (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Chinese authorities punished a total of nearly 290 people in more than 5,200 food safety cases in 2011, according to new figures.

Sources with the State Council's Food Safety Committee said on Thursday that those who violated food safety laws were handed stiff sentences, including life imprisonment and the death penalty with probation, a special form of punishment in China in which a death sentence can be reduced to life imprisonment if the person commits no new crimes.

Law enforcement authorities closed more than 5,000 enterprises involved in food safety crimes and also gave administrative punishments to government officials for misconduct related to the cases.

Health Minister Chen Zhu admitted on Wednesday that China's food safety standards are in urgent need of improvement following a spate of food safety scandals, reported Xinhua News Agency.

Chen said the total number of national food standards, local standards and industrial standards has topped 5,000, and many of them overlap or contradict each other. He said this is the motivation behind the Ministry of Health's announcement last month that it will overhaul and streamline the current standards.

Chen noted deficiencies in some vital assessment measures, such as the lack of processes to ensure the quality of food packaging.

Some current food standards have become outdated, requiring officials to devise new standards, Chen said.

The Ministry of Health issued a draft on revised food standards last month and will be soliciting public feedback until the end of February.

The minister said the sluggish pace of research on national food standards and the country's fledgling risk evaluation system have hindered the construction of national food standards.

Chen also said the regulation of food safety is falling behind in part due to the shortage of professional technical management organs.

An outline for China's quality-control development (2011-2020), issued by the State Council on Thursday, stressed the importance of improving the quality of Chinese products. According to the document, the issue is vital to the country's sustainable development, the public welfare as well as the nation's image.

Serious economic losses due to substandard products, environmental pollution and food safety scandals are still prevalent, according to the outline.

Food safety has become one of the most crucial issues for Chinese people in the wake of various scandals, such as the now-infamous melamine poisoning incident in which affected an estimated 300,000 infants, left six dead and sent hundreds to the hospital, according to official statistics.

Xiong Wenzhao, a professor of administrative law at Minzu University of China, told China Daily on Thursday that the core issue in the frequent quality scandals is the lack of professional ethics.

"Many enterprises are looking for any way to find loopholes in the country's quality supervision during the process of production because profit is their primary concern," he said.

China's quality supervision departments investigated and seized counterfeit goods valued at 5.33 billion yuan ($ 846.7 million) in 2011, statistics from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine showed.

Zhi Shuping, minister of quality supervision, said in January that the administration's work last year focused on inspections of dairy products, liquor, meat and food additives as well as intellectual property rights infringements.

Quality supervision departments revoked 15,000 licenses for industrial enterprises found to be producing counterfeit food products and shut down 426 dairy companies.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

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