Three major China food safety risks: Officials highlight contamination, drug residue and excessive additives as key concerns

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

China has revealed microbial contamination, excessive food additives and excessive drug residues to be the major food safety challenges that the country is facing. ©Getty Images
China has revealed microbial contamination, excessive food additives and excessive drug residues to be the major food safety challenges that the country is facing. ©Getty Images

Related tags China Food safety contamination Additives

China has revealed microbial contamination, excessive food additives and excessive drug residues to be the major food safety challenges that the country is facing, based on data from the government-administered 2019 National Food Safety Inspections.

The results were announced by the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) earlier this month at a public event and later in a follow-up formal statement.

“In 2019, the SAMR [tested] food samples from 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities, completing a total of some 244,000 random food safety batch tests covering 33 categories,”​ said SAMR.

“[We tested for] 558 indicators including microorganisms, agricultural and veterinary drug residues, food additives, biotoxins, heavy metals and other national food safety indicators, and [analysis has revealed] an overall passing rate of 97.6% (238,000) which is the same as the previous year and maintained at a 2.9% increase from 2014.”

The agency considered these results to demonstrate the food safety environment in China as ‘stable and positive’​ but acknowledged that many problems still remain.

“China has many food production and operation facilities, very large consumer volumes, very long industrial chains from farm to table, and many new sales platforms such as e-commerce emerging,” ​said SAMR.

Not all of these [food and retail companies] behave responsibly [which makes] the local food safety situation relatively complicated and there are still further food safety issues that need to be resolved.”

In the report, close to 6,000 samples were found to fail food safety tests and microbial contamination was the biggest food safety risk highlighted, making up 28.4% of all failed samples. This was followed by excessive food additives found which made up 22.9% of all failed samples and agricultural and veterinary drug residues at 16.7% of all failed samples.

“[By category], random sampling found that chilled beverages were amongst the most affected with 6.1% of failed samples, mainly caused by microbe contamination. Bee products (e.g. honey) also saw high rates of failed samples at 5.7% due to drug residues and microbes,”​ said the report.

Perhaps due to the increased amount of online shopping done during COVID-19, failed samples of foods sold via e-commerce were found to rise by 1.2% year-on-year to hit 3.2%.

“This reflects how food items sold via online shopping platforms need to be supervised and monitored more closely,”​ said SAMR.

Meat products (97% pass rate), processed foods (98.8%), edible oil (98.9%), egg products (99.5%), dairy products (99.7%) and infant formula (99.8%) all saw high pass rates, maintaining similar levels as in 2018.

Priority but slow progress

SAMR and Food Safety Committee Office Director Xiao Yaqing added that China President Xi Jinping had made food safety a major priority for his administration, but despite having made ‘great progress’​, many challenges still lie ahead.

“China’s food safety system has made great progress [compared to where it was a few years back], but still faces many difficulties and challenges which require constant effort and long-term perseverance to overcome,”​ he said.

“The government will continue to plan prevention and control measures for normalised conditions [post-COVID-19] with food safety as a firm baseline for all strategies.

“Companies are expected to adhere to regulations and maintain the quality of their products, consumers need to monitor, academics need to make the science here more transparent for the public to understand, and media must maintain their objectivity when reporting on food safety.”

Zooming in on trade

Apart from its local food safety focus, China is also looking to improve its regulations to manage imported and exported food products.

China’s customs department issued a notice earlier this month seeking public opinion via its website, email or post to improve the food safety management of products traded in and out of the country.

“In accordance with President Xi Jinping’s food safety demands and to improve the food safety governance and quality of imported and exported foods, the Customs Department is seeking the public’s feedback on the ‘Import and Export Food Safety Management Measures (Draft)’ document,”​ said the department on its website.

The draft document can be downloaded here​ and submissions can be made here​. The deadline for submissions is July 11 2020.

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