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Lawmakers expose China’s ongoing food safety flaws

By Rory Harrington , 01-Jul-2011

Unscrupulous food processors, corrupt officials, incomplete regulations and ignorance of the laws are some of the ongoing defects in China’s food safety system, said a report by the country’s legislators this week.

The members of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress delivered a damning assessment of Chinese food safety after carrying out a three-month probe into the sector.

Lu Yongxiang, vice chairman of the committee, said that while officials have made progress in improving the food safety regime, the investigation had found a string of persistent problems, Chinese state media said.

He added that there remained a number of food manufacturers that continued to flout regulations and behave in an “underhand and dishonest fashion”.

A failure of some local government agencies to carryout their duties properly in curtailing illegal practices is also an issue.

A lack of awareness of new regulation and safety practices among some industry players was still a problem, said Lu, who called on authorities to publicise new laws more effectively.

The report – compiled after an investigation carried out between March and May 2011 - raised concerns about the legal framework for food safety - with the current system of regulations and standards described as incomplete.

It also outlined loopholes in supervisory systems and said there was even a shortage of inspection equipment for officials.

Stricter enforcement

The lawmakers tabled a raft of suggestions to improve the system, following the introduction of China’s food safety law two years ago.

They called on the State Council to be stricter in ensuring that local agencies performed their duties properly and co-ordinate duties more effectively among the various bodies.

More resources for equipment and personnel were also needed, said the document. The public and media should be encouraged to report food outbreaks more quickly.

Illegal cooking oil

A separate report in the media claims to have uncovered a common practice in China that sees up to 100 tonnes of illegal and sub-standard cooking oil, reprocessed and put back into the food chain on a daily basis.

The so-called gutter or swill oil - waste animal fat or cooking oil that has already been used repeatedly – is being treated in large-scale plants and resold to retail outlets or food processors, said the Beijing Times.

The advanced equipment used by the rogue oil processors makes it almost impossible to detect, said the paper as it claimed to have discovered widespread distribution across the Beijing, Hebei and Tianjin provinces.

The used or waste oil is blended and bleached in huge towers before being repackaged for sale.

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