China ponders tightening meat ‘recycling’ rules

By David Green

- Last updated on GMT

China is clamping down on meat safety
China is clamping down on meat safety

Related tags: Food safety, Food, Food and drug administration, Poultry

China’s central government is currently reviewing significant amendments to its June 2009 National Food Safety Law, including the closure of a grey area that has left space for so-called ‘recycling’ of meat products after they have expired.

A revised draft of the law, which stipulates sharp increases in fines for companies and sole traders breaching its terms, will be open for public comment until the end of November: the text has been published on the website of the China Food and Drug Administration.

Under the proposed changes – the first since the legislation came into force – responsibility for disposing of expired meat products will be more clearly defined as lying with producers. This follows a series of cases in which expired products were taken off the shelf, “bleached”​ with various chemicals, and then re-introduced to market.

The procedure, involving the recycling of stewed snacks containing chicken wings and duck heads, was exposed in the domestic media in August, raising pressure on the government to clamp down on meat safety violations.  

“Criminal liability and the fines for illegal food production and trade will be raised by five to 10 times the original fines, rising to up to 30 times in the most serious cases, accompanied by the suspension of their business licence,”​ the draft said. The proposal also strengthens local governments’ regulatory responsibilities and authorises unannounced food safety inspections.  

In theory, the law already makes meat producers responsible for disposing of expired products, but the fragmented nature of China’s massive market and the absence of traceability systems means few are forced to comply with the regulation.

Under the draft, the regulatory system governing the meat product distribution chain will be reinforced: “Food production enterprises will also be subject to compulsory food safety liability insurance,”​ it said, without elaborating.

“Food production enterprises should establish a traceability management system and self-regulated food safety inspection system,”​ it said, again without stating what form these will take.  

However, one practical proposal under consideration by the government includes replacing the existing registration system with a more complex “identity card”,​ which will include sufficient information for regulators to trace meat products via distributors directly to the original producer, irrespective of whether it has originated in a different province.

“Either way, it’s good news in the long run for meat producers, because these systems will enhance food safety for meat and rebuild consumers’ confidence, leading to higher sales,”​ said Tong Sun, chief analyst at Beijing-based Bric Agricultural Consultants.

“Not many companies have these kind of systems in place already, but the cost shouldn’t be too large relative to the overall costs of meat production, and they will be given sufficient time to implement them.”

Ian Chen of innovative livestock firm Wagyu Bio-Tech Beijing added: “There will be more and more stringent rules come into force, stricter supervision and punishment, which for a high-end business like ours is a good thing as our beef products already conform to international standards.

“We’re currently working with the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Agriculture to introduce a product quality tracking system on a par with that used during the Olympics,”​ he said.

Related topics: Meat

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