Food safety tops the menu

By Xie Chuanjiao/Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-11-28 07:48

"Even if we had complete regulations, if they are not strictly enforced, we won't achieve any improvement in food safety supervision at all," Zhang said.

Ma Zhiying, an engineer with the Shanghai Food Safety Research Institute, agreed.

"We don't have the provisions in the current food safety law to test for many of the problematic additives found in recent food products," Ma told the Xinhua News Agency. "On the other hand, the lack of sufficient testing technology means we cannot promptly uncover the problems, either."

For example, in the turbot case, Shandong does have an aquatic food quality-check centre, but it can't make several pesticide residue tests, as its Shanghai counterpart can, Ma said.

He also stressed the importance of tightening supervision over the headstream of the food circulation chain.

"Selected tests among markets do find problems," Ma said. However, that is the bottom of the distribution chain, where harm has already been done to a wide range of customers. "

"Moreover, it costs much more to check out after the banned addictives or medicines have been used."

Strict quality standards should also be established to regulate the safe application of fundamental production materials such as seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, additives and medicines.

Zhang Yongjian, of the CASS, also blamed the country’s ambiguous multiple management system.

He said "multi-monitoring" was one of the key factors behind many of the food scandals in recent years and "governments should streamline their co-ordination and improve their working efficiency."

Five governmental agencies monitor the safety of agricultural products and livestock. Provincial agriculture departments have jurisdiction over farm operations; quality inspection departments govern processing and packaging; industry and commerce departments monitor the market; and public health departments deal with the food's consumption.

Meanwhile, the State Food and Drug Administration and its local branches handle the co-ordination with other departments and monitor the whole process.

"In many cases those government bodies are duplicated, but sometimes there are procedures that fall between the cracks."

Nevertheless, Han Fanfan, an official with the Beijing Food Safety Inspection Centre, said: "It is impossible to have only a couple of departments supervising food safety in China, according to the country's complicated status quo."

Some successful methods in developed countries, such as the United States, one principle is to have one department to supervise over one certain kind of food production from field to table.

"However, as a huge agricultural country, where 70 per cent farmers are small production units, supervision and management costs of food safety supervision are much higher than in some developed countries with a large-scale machinery-based agricultural economy," Han said.
"It's also more difficult than in some small countries."

Furthermore, the economic environment in China has very special characteristics as it is in a transitional period.

"The most important thing is the self-discipline of food production enterprises under a rational food safety law."

Wu Yongning, director of the Chemistry Lab of Food Nutrition and Safety Institute under the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, urged the public not to panic.

"The increase in accidents of poisoning food like this are natural, as the technology of food safety testing is becoming more and more advanced," Wu told China Daily.

He said scares perpetuated by rogue manufacturers in the past couple of years did not point to a decline in mainland food quality.

"Food safety in China is actually making progress as more and more problems unfold."

Moreover, the expert said, food containing carcinogenic elements is not equal to carcinogenic food.

"Only when accumulated to a certain amount can the element generate cancer," he said.


Top China News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours