Public gets first look at proposed food safety law

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2008, 12:00am

The proposed contents of the first national food safety legislation were made available for public comment yesterday in another bid to repair the mainland's image, tarnished by a string of scandals.

The much-anticipated draft Food Safety Law, based on the existing Food Hygiene Law, would impose tougher penalties on food manufacturers and suppliers guilty of misconduct, and set up a recall system to deal with products that are found to be unsafe, reported Xinhua, which yesterday released the full text.

It also calls for a national food safety monitoring and risk assessment system and unification of confusing and often conflicting food safety standards.

The move followed Premier Wen Jiabao's recent pledges to improve food safety to salvage the country's reputation and restore domestic and international consumers' faith in the 'made-in-China label'.

'Food safety is vital to improving people's lives and health, so relevant legislation must match national efforts of safeguarding food safety,' he said last month at the National People's Congress.

The mainland has been rocked by a spate of food safety scandals in the past few years, from fake eggs and toxic fish to adulterated milk powder and pesticide-laden dumplings.

Officials have acknowledged that the mainland's food safety record has shattered public confidence and become a main source of concern for trading partners. It even escalated into a diplomatic issue last month when President Hu Jintao had to delay his first official visit to Japan because of the fallout from a food scare over poisoned dumplings produced by a Hebei factory.

The authorities launched a four-month crackdown on poor product quality last year and have fast-tracked the legislation.

Although the law was not included in the last legislature's five-year plan, the NPC Standing Committee gave the draft law its first reading in December.

Under the new national legislation, food producers and retailers who fail to recall products which fail to meet standards would face fines from 5,000 yuan (HK$5,570) to 100,000 yuan.

Businesses that violate the law would be subject to fines up to 20 times the value of their products, which legal experts describe as a significant increase in penalties.

However, the draft law has been criticised for failing to address the long-standing bureaucratic wrangling that has hampered the authorities' efforts to improve food safety.