Sanlu Group

Law gives official food for thought

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 June, 2009, 12:00am


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Administrative enforcement is a better way to resolve food safety problems than litigation, a senior Health Ministry official said yesterday as a highly anticipated food safety law came into effect.

'At this stage of our country's development, administrative enforcement is still very important,' Su Zhi, deputy director of the ministry's Food Safety Co-ordination and Hygiene Supervision Bureau, said during an online chat explaining the new law.

'Perhaps several years from now - when the people's legal consciousness has risen; when they have learned skills of asserting their rights through the law; when the opportunities for civil litigation increase - the government can slowly step back and become really service-focused.'

Mr Su was responding to a statement by the moderator of a forum on the government website, who said: 'Although the law has toughened punishments, some lawyers believe it still relies too much on the traditional approach of administrative enforcement. They believe that a more effective way to promote food safety would be to encourage litigation.'

Mr Su disagreed, saying the west had a long history of rule of law and the use of litigation. However, in China, administrative enforcement was still more effective because it did not have to wait for citizens to sue, and it was cheaper.

Calls for the new law were urgently renewed after the Sanlu melamine-tainted milk formula scandal last autumn, which killed at least six babies and made almost 300,000 ill. The law aims to protect consumers' rights to civil compensation, among other things.

In reality, parents of babies affected by the tainted milk formula are still fighting for justice. So far, only two cases have been accepted - both in the Xinhua district of Cangzhou in Hebei - but no date has been set for either trial.