A top health official called for more integration within China's fractured
food regulatory system Friday to boost its troubled safety record, while the
military warned that unsafe food could undermine its combat readiness.
Vice Health Minister Wang Longde said new laws were needed to strengthen food
safety supervision by coordinating the duties of competing government agencies.
"The food issue involves cooperation among many departments. This is very
important," Wang said on the sidelines of a news conference in a rare high-level
comment on China's attempts to regain consumer confidence.
"To solve the problem, we must make laws, we must amend laws. The purpose of
this is to strengthen cooperation among government bodies and together,
strengthen supervision," he said.
The lack of a centrally controlled regulatory system is considered a key
defect underpinning China's perennial food and drug safety woes. Those problems
are now drawing international concern as a growing number of Chinese exports are
found tainted with dangerous levels of toxins and chemicals.
Responsibility is now split among at least six agencies, including the State
Food and Drug Administration, the Health Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the
Commerce Ministry, the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, and the
General Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine.
Blurred lines of authority and divided responsibilities often enable the
country's countless illegal operations to escape detection.
A report released earlier this month by the World Health Organization, the
Asian Development Bank and China's State Food and Drug Administration condemned
the fragmentation of food regulation and "greater clarity was urgently needed."
"This lack of clearly assigned responsibility leads to a situation where no
agency or authority can be properly held accountable for their action or
inaction," the report said.
Wang's comments came the same day an official newspaper reported that the
People's Liberation Army _ the world's largest military _ has ordered improved
safety checks and will buy food only from suppliers who pass local government
hygiene and safety tests
"To strengthen food safety is to guarantee the PLA's combat capacity," Zhou
Pengjun, an official with the General Logistics Department, said.
All suppliers of food to the PLA's 2.3 million servicemen and women will have
to pass safety and hygiene tests, the report said.
The stringent measures reflect ongoing worries over small or unregulated
businesses who make their money by using cheap ingredients or substitutes.
A report issued Friday by the Beijing Municipal Health Inspection Institute
said about 60 percent of 21,200 restaurants inspected in the Chinese capital had
hygiene conditions that posed "some risk of contamination."
Another 3 percent prepared food in an environment that had "a high risk of
contamination, even the possibility of causing food poisoning," the institute
Also Friday, a statement posted on the Web site of the State Food and Drug
Administration, or SFDA, stressed coordination at local levels. New local
coordination bodies would be headed by a provincial governor or mayor of a large
"The organizations will play an important role in the coordination of various
supervision departments," the SFDA Director Shao Mingli said.
The report did not go into details on how the scheme will work.
In recent weeks, China has executed the former head of its drug regulation
agency for taking bribes and banned the use of a chemical found in antifreeze in
the production of toothpaste.
But although the production of toothpaste with diethylene glycol _ a
thickening agent in antifreeze _ has been prohibited, companies will still be
able to sell their current supplies domestically, an official with the General
Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said.
"The government did not advise removing the toothpaste containing the
chemical on sale from shelves," the unnamed official was quoted as saying by
Shanghai's Oriental Morning Post.
"Consumers are assured that those toothpaste brands are safe," said the
official, who did not identify the brands.