China’s food is known for its long and rich history, but also for its modern scandals. A new food safety law, dubbed by experts as the toughest yet, went into effect Thursday to help assuage the concerns surrounding the country’s food safety.
Feeding 1.3 billion people
Most Chinese people are pessimistic about the safety of their food. A recent Pew report found that 71 percent of respondents considered the safety of their food a “very big problem” or a “moderately big problem.”
And more people think that way that they did seven years ago when Pew asked the same question.
“Concerns about food safety have risen over the past seven years amid several high-profile scares,” Pew wrote in the report. “In 2008, baby formula tainted with melamine was linked to the deaths of six infants and affected almost 300,000 babies. More recently, nearly a half-billion dollars’ worth of meat was seized by authorities in June 2015, some of it having been frozen in the 1970s. Roughly a third (32 percent) now say food safety is a very big problem, up 20 percentage points from 12 percent in 2008.”
Public opinion in China on food safety
“Safe food is a fundamental,” Premier Li Keqiang said earlier this year while speaking to the country’s State Council. “People want and need to know that every bite of food they take is safe to eat.”
Food safety tops the list of rumours by China’s netizens on social media, according to a report released by Sun Yat-sen University in January.
Almost half the articles on WeChat that were reported as rumors were about food safety, the report found.
Will it work?
But can the new law restore confidence in China’s food industry? Previous government efforts to prevent contamination and enforce hygiene standards in the food chain struggled to keep up with a rapidly expanding economy, China Daily reported.
CCTV’s Xing Zheming talked to an expert to find out.
China new food safety law sets new regulatory systemCan the new law restore confidence in China's food industry? Previous government efforts to prevent contamination and enforce hygiene standards in the food chain struggled to keep up with a rapidly expanding economy, China Daily reported. CCTV's Xing Zheming talked to an expert to find out.
- The new system now comprises just two regulatory bodies: the Ministry of Agriculture, for all agricultural products; and the China Food and Drug Administration, or CFDA.
- The State Council Food Safety Committee will coordinate and supervise the cross-department regulatory efforts, draft national food safety strategies and review the legal system to ensure it’s up to date.
- The National Health and Family Planning Commission will meanwhile be in charge of setting national food safety standards and assessing risks.
China’s beefed-up food safety law
Recent food scandals — injecting clenbuterol (a fat burner) into pork, putrid, used cooking oil to prepare food, selling pork from sick pigs, medicines made with toxic gelatin, and passing off rat meat as fit for human consumption — have caused public outcries for better safety precautions. Here’s a look at some of the changes that go into effect Oct. 1:
Those who add inedible substances to food could find themselves behind bars for up to 15 days. Administrative detention normally refers to that imposed by police without court proceedings. This has been considered tough, as other punishments stipulated in the Food Safety Law generally involves fines and revocation of certificates.
Consumers can demand reparation of three times any loss they suffer due to eating substandard food. Previously, only compensation of 10 times the price of the food — not the total loss, which could include days off work due to illness — was allowed.
Producers may face fines of up to 30 times the value of their products, a three-fold increase from the previous limit of 10 times the value. If the products are worth less than 10,000 yuan ($1,610), the fine can be up to 150,000 yuan — three times the previous amount.
Penalties for Landlords
Landlords of production sites who knowingly turn a blind eye to illegal activities on the premises, and suppliers who sell unlawful substances to producers, knowing that they will be added to foods, can have their revenues seized. They could also be fined up to 200,000 yuan ($32,210).
Penalties for Regulators
Officials with food and drug regulators who fail in their duty to protect the public, or participate in cover-ups, will face administrative penalties, such as demotion or dismissal. Similar punishments will be dished out to officials in health and agriculture departments. Criminal penalties could be brought for abuse of power and neglect of duty for personal gain.
Tougher Regulations for Baby Formula
Infant milk formula will be heavily regulated in efforts to restore public confidence in the domestic dairy industry.
Producers will be required to register powdered baby milk formula with the food and drug regulator. Earlier provisions stipulated that firms only needed to ensure their formulas were on record.
There are more than 1,900 varieties of baby formula available in China. Each company has around 20 varieties. In other countries, firms produce and sell only two or three.
“Some producers [are creating] new formulas purely for the sake of marketing,” said the Food and Drug Administration regulators.
In 2008, infant formula produced by the Sanlu Group, a leading dairy firm in north China, was found to contain melamine. Six babies died and thousands fell ill. As a result the Food Safety Law was enacted in 2009, but public confidence in domestic baby formula has not recovered. Instead, consumers have demanded baby formula from countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Germany, which now have strict export quotas for China.
Producers will now have to test every batch of the product, conduct regular internal inspections, and submit reports to regulators.
Buying Food Online
China’s online retail sales totaled 1.85 trillion yuan ($297.9 billion) in 2013, with food eating up a little under 2 percent of that: 32.4 billion ($5.22 billion). The amendment adds new articles on online shopping, clarifying the liabilities of shopping platforms. They are required to register the real identity of vendors and check their certificates. The platforms will have to compensate consumers if they cannot provide the identity, address, and contact details of retailers.
They can also report malpractice to the government and deny access to delinquent retailers.