Seek lasting food safety

Updated: 2011-09-28 11:42

(China Daily)

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In the special campaign against illicit food additives, the authorities have investigated more than 18,000 cases and outlawed or closed down over 5,000 businesses, sources within the State Council Food Safety Committee say.

The numbers are impressive for a five-month period sufficient for labeling the crackdown a success by any criteria.

As regular consumers who are constantly concerned about alarming discoveries in our nation's food, we must be grateful for such an achievement. After all, our collective safety surely improves with 5,000 fewer firms adding illegal contents to our food.

Be it ractopamine, clenbuterol or plasticizers in our food, ordinary consumers would have been almost defenseless if the 5,000 evil-doers remained at large. The disappearance of their toxins from our food, therefore, is worth celebrating.

And we would understand if officials, as usual, celebrated this latest "periodic success". This is the magic of fixed-term special campaigns. Fast, set results in a pre-determined period are a major reason why authorities favor this type of approach.

Yet pardon us for being cautious. We cannot be as optimistic as the Food Safety Committee because we have doubts about its announcement that the upsurge in illicit food additives has been brought under control.

The repeated emergence of melamine makes us wonder whether it is risky to assume all law-breakers have been caught. Additionally, continuous reports of new types of undesirable additives raise legitimate suspicions about the current crackdown's effectiveness.

We have no intention of depreciating the importance and contributions of such campaigns. They benefit us at least in two aspects. First, high-profile crackdowns are conducive to raising public awareness and helping put some otherwise ignored topics on government agendas. Second, they do produce instant results.

But that should not blind us to obvious downsides of such campaigns.

It is fair to say that government agencies are distracted from their day-to-day operations by such campaigns, especially because the related food-monitoring departments often complain of shortages in staff, equipment and funding. In the end, this reduces their long-term effectiveness.

Moreover, law-breakers understand that when campaigns of a set period end, they are free to resume poisoning our food.

This is why some undesirable trends, which have been declared eradicated or checked, re-emerge afterwards.

Thus, we would prefer to see officials promise to "maintain the momentum of high pressure" on illegal food additives honored. The cost to our health would be too high if the problem was allowed to persist until it spiraled out of control.