Three agencies to be responsible for food safety, down from 13

New body to regulate production, with other ministries overseeing farming, evaluating risks and setting standards; aim is to avoid overlaps

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 6:20am


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More details have emerged about the new central government agency to be responsible for the regulation of food and drug safety as part of restructuring to be approved during the annual meeting of the National People's Congress.

The reorganisation plan will see departments in charge of food safety from various government agencies integrated with the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) to create a single safety agency avoid overlaps and blind spots, a source familiar with the plan said.

The executive office of the State Council's Food Safety Commission, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce's food market regulation department and the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine's food production regulation department would be detached from their original agencies and integrated into the new SFDA.

The Food Safety Commission , headed by premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang , two other deputy premiers and a dozen ministerial-level officials, will remain separate. It was established in 2010 as a high-level co-ordination body to make food safety operations run more smoothly.

The new agency will be upgraded to ministerial level, directly under the cabinet, and is expected to be headed by SFDA chief Yin Li, the source said.

The government restructuring will give three agencies control of food safety regulation. The new SFDA will be in charge of regulating food production, with the Ministry of Agriculture overseeing primary production and the Ministry of Health in charge of establishing food safety standards and risk evaluation.

Thirteen government agencies are currently involved in four aspects of food safety, with the health authorities in charge of co-ordination, the quality inspection authorities in charge of production, the industry and commerce authorities in charge of food distribution and the SFDA in charge of restaurant food. Food safety experts have complained that the system has created many loopholes for agencies to shun their responsibilities, as in the melamine-tainted-milk scandal in 2008 in which at least six children died and 300,000 fell ill with kidney problems.

Milk collection stations were blamed for adding the industrial chemical to raw milk to pass protein tests, but the Ministry of Agriculture and the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine both tried to avoid responsibility because the boundary between their jurisdictions was not clear- cut.

Professor He Jiguo, director of the college of food science and nutritional engineering at China Agricultural University, said it was unrealistic to count on the new agency to solve all the mainland's food safety problems.