Posts Tagged ‘China’

China’s new Food Safety Law now in effect

June 4, 2009

China begins the overhaul of its food safety system with new laws that went into effect Monday.

While the phrase “herding cats” comes most readily to mind, China has begun its gargantuan effort to regulate and improve the safety of its food and drug industries. China’s new Food Safety Law, a far reaching piece of legislation with which the government hopes to change the country’s battered food safety image, came into effect Monday.

The law, which was passed in March, replaces regulations enacted in 1995. That legislation “was outdated and the food monitoring system has long been blamed for lacking efficiency, which led to repeated scandals ranging from tainted dairy products to vegetables with excessive pesticide,” reported Xinhua, China’s official news agency, earlier this week.

It was the dairy scandal in 2008 which brought China’s faltering food safety system to world-wide attention. More than 300,000 people were sickened and several infants died after drinking milk which had been mixed with melamine, a fire retardant which processors used to increase the protein readings in their products. A year earlier, thousands of animals in the United States were sickened with melamine contaminated pet food made in China. Numerous other scandals, ranging from poor or non-existent food safety standard to outright fraud, exacerbated the problem.

The Chinese government, however, was already at work on the legislation that finally became law this week. The overhaul of the country’s food safety regulations began back in 2007 in recognition of the fact that officials were largely powerless in their ability to oversee the production of more 200 million farmers and half-a-million food processors.

“China’s Food Safety Law appears to be as much a consequence of recent food safety scares as it is the result of protracted consideration and drafting,” noted an advisory from the international business law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.

Back in 2007, however, the Chinese government was hailing its food exports as the safest in the world, noting in a report “Japanese quarantine authorities found Chinese food exports had the highest acceptance rate at 99.42 percent, followed by the EU (99.38 percent) and the United States (98.69 percent)”.

Following the melamine dairy scandal, as well as outbreaks of Salmonella contamination from American products in the United States, figures exposing the weaknesses of the American inspection process began to crop up. Those high acceptance rates the Chinese touted had more to do, it seemed, with a lack of resources on the part of the US than with over-all quality. In 2007, the United States imported more than $4.5 billion in food products from China, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Only 1 percent of food imported into the US in 2007 was actually inspected by the Food and Drug Administration, reported USA Today two years ago. The FDA is responsible for all drugs and food products other than meat, poultry, and eggs.  That figure was down from 8 percent in 1992, when food imports to the US were significantly lower, the same article reported.

The FDA sealed an agreement with China last year to allow a small number of inspectors to work alongside Chinese officials inspecting products destined for US markets, reported Only eight positions were approved, however, to be installed over a period of 18 months. More than 3,000 pharmaceutical plants manufacture goods for export to the US, and thousands more produce food.

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