Chinese consumers concerned about food safety

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety

Chinese consumers are worried about the safety of their food and
want the government to do more to improve quality standards,
suggests a new survey.

More than 80 per cent of the 868 people surveyed in the southern province of Guangzhou said they feel worried about the safety of food they purchase, a feeling that is likely to be on the rise after a spate of food safety incidents around the country. In the last month, Beijing has pulled eggs contaminated with the industrial dye Sudan Red from supermarket shelves in several provinces. It has also temporarily halted the sales of turbot, after the fish was found to be contaminated with chemicals, and glass noodles have been found containing industrial bleach. But although China's ministry of agriculture has promised to carry out more frequent checks on food producers and improve its supervision of agricultural products, the country's food regulatory system falls under six different departments making it difficult to co-ordinate efficient supervision. Information flow between different departments is slow, holding back co-operation on food safety issues, and the poor delimitation of regulatory authority among departments sees each pass the buck to the next one at times of crisis. The survey by the Guangzhou public opinion research centre during November found that more than 62 per cent of people believe government agencies could work more closely however and increase the frequency of food inspection. They also want the penalty for breaking regulations to be increased. Food producers found guilty of selling poor quality or unsafe products face fines of up to CNY30,000 but this merely equals the cost of regular food testing. "As a result, many companies would like to take the risk, instead of abiding the law,"​ said Li Jianrong, director general of Zhejiang Institute of Food Science and Technology, in a recent interview with the Economic Information Daily. The recent food safety problems have also highlighted the gap between rural and urban areas of China, both in terms of enforcement and awareness. The State Food and Drug Administration has so far only established its presence at the provincial level and in selected cities. "In fact, FDA at lower levels usually lack staff, money and power, which makes them more like a research centre or publicity agency,"​ said Li. Just last week Guangdong province, one of the country's wealthiest, announced it was introducing its own food safety regulation, the first of its kind in the country to specifically focus on this area. It will include a recall system and also proposes that government agencies design a system to distribute food safety information to both the public and other bodies. Zhang Junxiu, secretary general of Guangdong Food Profession Union, told AP-Foodtechnology.com that the new system had been planned for some time however and was not in response to recent safety incidents. He added that the overall situation is getting better. "The reason why more contaminated food is being detected is that the supervision system works better and transparency of information is improved."Additional reporting by Pan Yan​.

Related topics: Markets, Food safety, East Asia, China

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