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National safety system to push tainted food off shelves
By Wang Qian (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-13 07:03

Authorities are directing unprecedented resources at setting up its first national food safety risk assessment system, following a spate of tainted food incidents in recent years, officials said on Friday.

The system includes a national committee, special regulation and food safety assessment offices nationwide, said Deputy Health Minister Chen Xiaohong at the China Food Safety Forum 2009 in Beijing. Chen did not give a specific timeline for the system but said "it would be implemented very soon".

National Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety senior researcher Chen Junshi said the latest system would be a "progressive improvement" to the new Food Safety Law that came into effect this month.

"With this system, we'll be able to establish a national food safety standard, which is essential to people's health," Chen said.

The new committee will make independent risk assessments and provide scientific analyses as the central government regulates and amends national food safety standards, a draft regulation released on the Ministry of Health's (MOH) website stated earlier this week.

Any risk assessment of food safety can also be carried out after the ministry receives reports of potential food problems. The MOH, Ministry of Commerce, Administration for Industry and Commerce, as well as the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, can also call upon the committee to conduct an assessment, the MOH said.

If needed, the committee can also use professional technological institutions to collect and analyze related data, the draft stated.

All assessments, funded by the MOH, will be done independently to keep the process objective and transparent.

Food safety risk assessment centers will be built in provinces and municipalities across the country to form a national network to guarantee food safety, said Su Zhi, vice director of the health legal system and supervision department of the ministry.

Since December last year, the MOH has cracked down on 7,626 cases involving food safety and retrieved economic losses of more than 67 million yuan ($9.8 million), figures from the ministry showed.

A major food scandal involving melamine-tainted baby formula last year sickened 30,000 infants and led to at least six infant deaths.

Without a unified and mandatory national food safety standard, food safety will just be a pipe dream, said Li Yuan, director of the administrative law division of the National People's Congress Standing Committee's legislative affairs commission. "The new system will play a crucial role in setting up such a standard," Li said.

(China Daily 06/13/2009 page2)