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Environmental protection and food safety were highlighted among issues concerning people's livelihood in Premier Wen Jiabao's Government Work Report delivered to the National People's Congress on Tuesday.
With dense smog and haze covering more than 10 provinces five times in January, and half of the country's groundwater polluted as revealed by media reports in February, environmental issues have triggered continued anxiety.
Wen addressed the issue in his suggestions to the country's new leaders.
"The government should take solid preventive and regulating measures to promote changes in the mode of production and lifestyle, should be determined to solve prominent environmental pollution problems that concern the public interest, such as airborne, water or soil pollution, and should give hope to the public with practical action: improving environmental quality and safeguarding people's health," he said.
He also mentioned the government's progress on environmental protection in the past five years, such as revising the ambient air quality standard and including a monitoring index of fine particles in it, total chemical oxygen demand - a key index for water quality - falling by 15.7 percent, and total sulfur dioxide emissions falling by 17.5 percent.
Cao Xianghong, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering and vice-president of China Petrochemical Corp, or Sinopec, said: "Though energy consumption per unit of GDP has fallen by 17.2 percent in the past five years, as mentioned in Premier Wen's report, total energy consumption that continues to grow still poses a threat to environmental protection, especially the prevention and control of airborne pollution."
Qin Dahe, a CPPCC member and meteorological expert, said: "The requirement for development and environmental protection means that the country must change its mode of economic development."
While attending a group discussion at the National People's Congress session on Tuesday afternoon, Health Minister Chen Zhu said: "Environmental health, such as clean air and water, is the foundation and backbone of public health. We're encouraged that Premier Wen Jiabao said in the work report that concrete measures will be taken to improve the environment, such as on water and air, to give the public hope."
Chen said China has seen several so-called cancer villages emerge in recent years - villages that see an unusually high incidence of cancers possibly caused by pollution.
More research is needed on a link between smog and lung cancer, but statistics from hospitals have shown there are increases in acute respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases when there is heavy smog, Chen told China Daily.
Wen also referred a great deal to food safety while delivering the Government Work Report, conceding that the country still faces many challenges on food and drug safety. He suggested the system for food and drug safety regulation and supervision be reformed and improved.
Yan Weixing, deputy director of the safety committee under the China Food Safety Risk Assessment Center and a CPPCC member, said: "To improve food safety management, the authorities should first set relative standards and install more professional and focused law enforcement and supervision teams."
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(China Daily 03/06/2013 page5)