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China to revamp food system - report

By Jane Byrne , 25-Feb-2009

China's State Council will set up a food safety commission to bolster the country's food monitoring system, whose disjointed nature has long been blamed for numerous food scandals, according to the Xinhua news agency.

The state media group reported that the decision was written in a draft law on food safety, which was tabled to the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee today for a fourth reading.

China's current food safety system involves at least five departments, including health, agriculture, quality supervision, industry and commerce administration, and food and drug supervision.

Call for regulatory agency

Last year, United Nations officials called for a unified regulatory agency to deal with food safety in China so that its current system would be less fragmented and consumer confidence would be restored.

The UN report followed China's melamine scandal, whereby the presence of the industrial chemical in milk products resulted in the hospitalisation of thousands of Chinese children as well a number of deaths, and the subsequent global recalls of tainted Chinese dairy products greatly damaged the country’s food safety reputation.

A more modern food safety law, was recommended by the UN paper, as well as the need for improved monitoring, inspection and enforcement; the need for education and training of employees in the food industry and enforcing agencies; and better standards to bring the country in line with international norms.

It said that, drawing on best international practices, China needs to:

  • Recognise that food control is a mutually shared responsibility among government, the food industry and consumers.
  • Maximize risk reduction by applying the principle of prevention as fully as possible throughout the farm-to-table continuum;
  • Develop risk-based food safety strategies using sound scientific risk assessment and best practices in risk management;
  • Establish holistic, integrated initiatives which target risks and impact on economic well-being; and
  • Establish emergency procedures for dealing with particular hazards such as recall of products.

Consumer confidence

Meanwhile, according to a recent report from The IBM Institute for Business Value, Chinese consumers are even more concerned about food safety than their UK or US counterparts.

Its report, Full Value Traceability reveals that 84 per cent of Chinese consumers reported growing of concerns about food safety over the past two years compared with 50 per cent of US consumers and 47 per cent of UK consumers.

The recent escalation of food and product contaminations and recalls originating from China as well as confusion over marketing claims has eroded trust in consumer product,” says the report.

Its survey of 300 consumers across the country, after the melamine scandal, identified that in the event of product recalls, nearly 60 per cent of Chinese consumers distrusted the information provided by retailers while 65 per cent do not trust manufacturers’ advice.

Growing disposable income in China and increased product choice are fuelling a trend towards more educated consumers who are increasingly aware of food safety and who are prepared to pay premium prices for quality products. For example, 65 per cent of Chinese consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally sustainable food, according to the report.

Rebuilding the credibility of food safety standards and the assurance schemes that underpin them hold the key to restoring consumers’ confidence, states the report.

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