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Food safety timetable

(China Daily) Updated: 2012-07-05 14:31

The State Council's latest decision on food safety has evoked mixed feelings about a concern that haunts us all.

Over time, scandals involving melamine, clenbuterol, industrial gelatin, and numerous other dangerous additives in foods, have produced widespread suspicion and anxiety about the national food chain.

This would not have happened if the relevant government departments had been faithful to their duties and promises. And if those responsible for overseeing the food chain were willing to take the problems seriously and fulfill their duties, even overnight changes would be possible. Or at least, that's what many of us believed. However, things are obviously not as simple as we thought.

The State Council's goals to sort out the food chain are a stark reminder of the complexity of the issue. It will take "about three years" to effectively curb criminal offenses as well as "outstanding problems" that compromise food safety. And it will take "about five years" to establish a comprehensive national food safety guarantee network.

This timetable might disappoint those wanting instant changes. But at least it assures us that in five or six years we can be confident that what we are eating does not contain some hidden harm.

If enacting a ban on shark fins at official banquets takes three years, we can hardly complain about waiting five years for "substantial improvements" in food safety.

We have witnessed many government initiatives regarding food safety, which unfortunately have not prevented food scandals. But the program the central decision-makers have presented this time offers reasons for guarded optimism. For instance, it incorporates specific, though not precise, timelines.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the new document, however, is the formal introduction of food safety as an indicator in the performance evaluation of local governments and officials. Many have complained that the absence of food safety in such appraisals has allowed local administrators to ignore the matter. Incorporating food safety as one of the evaluation criteria will hopefully make local governments and officials aware of their responsibilities to ensure our food is safe to eat.

Since the problem has done so much harm and worried the nation for such a long time, we hope the incoming leadership will firmly seize the baton and run with it when they take office.

The current authorities have made a commitment to food safety that their successors cannot afford to not fulfill.

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