BEIJING - The central government will invest more to improve county-level quality inspection centers to ensure food hygiene over the next five years in response to a number of incidents, a senior official said.
Of the 2,862 county-level quality inspection centers nationwide, less than half, 1,100, are capable of carrying out food-safety tests, Wu Jinsheng, director of the technology department at the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), told China Daily at the weekend.
With increased government input during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), the number of counties with the capability of conducting food safety tests may double.
"It'll be ideal if the target could be met, assuming timely and adequate financing in the right place," Wu said, without disclosing how much money will be needed. But he admitted it is a tough challenge for the administration.
Some provincial governments, including Henan and Jiangxi, have admitted, in their reports over the past year, that they lacked the personnel to conduct food quality inspections.
The administration is making efforts to expand the number of qualified personnel from 93,000 to more than 100,000 by the end of 2015, Wu said.
AQSIQ figures also show that by the end of 2010 the administration had established 180 inspection centers nationwide, with 148 more being built.
Meanwhile, 209 national-level inspection laboratories, with equipment worth 14 billion yuan ($2.1 billion), had been set up as of Dec 31, with 100 more under construction, Wu said.
Food safety has been in the public eye in recent years after a number of incidents. The most notorious occurred in 2008, when melamine-tainted baby formula killed at least six babies and caused 300,000 children to fall ill across the country.
Some experts blamed insufficient government supervision for the food-safety scandals, while others suggested that the lack of equipment and qualified personnel was to blame.
At a national conference in October 2010, AQSIQ Minister Zhi Shuping said that investigators had been sent to Hunan and Yunnan provinces where they found that some people in charge possessed neither the professional knowledge nor the proper equipment to conduct food safety inspections.
In response, Wu said science and technology must play a role in boosting inspection standards and quarantine procedures.
In the past five years, the administration had undertaken more than 12,000 research projects, he said.
He particularly applauded the National Institute of Metrology, an administration affiliate, which played a significant role in dealing with urgent food safety incidents.