China’s food safety requires industry to act responsibly

By Jie Hu, EAS Strategic Advice Pte Ltd

A fresh case of melamine-tainted milk products has been reported during January in China. Local health officials removed tainted food products from the shelves in Shanghai at the beginning of this year and again in a south-western province.

Illegal use of ingredients has been found repeatedly in food products. 2008’s tainted baby milk scandal contributed to a sharp drop in China’s food exports undermining the credibility of the ‘Made in China’ brand.

Recognising public concern and the economic impact, China’s central government renewed food safety as a top priority and implemented a New Food Safety Law on 1 June, 2009. The new law aims to:

• Implement an integrated food safety management approach.
• Improve food safety assessment.
• Further strengthen the monitoring and supervision system.
• Abolish inspection exemptions.
• Implement compulsory recall system.
• Impose severe punishments to offenders.
• Unify a set of national standards.
• Establish food safety central coordinating body at the cabinet level.

The new law unifies the mandatory food safety standards and establishes a central body to enable better coordination, but its effectiveness depends on industry participation in food safety management. This would reduce food safety issues in the production process.

Being regulated under the food category, the Food Safety Law also affects health supplements in China. Companies in the sector will have to keep tabs on the development and the practical aspects of compliance pertaining to safety.

The new law and this current melamine scandal have highlighted the role and importance of food industry participation in food safety management. Article 7 mentions that food industry associations should strengthen their self-discipline, guide food manufacturers and dealers to carry out food-related business lawfully, promote industry credibility, publicise and popularise food safety knowledge. It is also emphasised in Article 3 of the new law that food producers should bear primary responsibility for the safety of food. Therefore the sector should ensure it is clear on the requirements for the safety of their products. With last month’s unfortunate news, the imperative is stronger than ever.

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