Penalties to rise in changes lined up for China's Food Safety Law

Amendments to legislation will see penalties increase on agencies, which fail in its duties

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 June, 2013, 4:34am

The mainland's four-year-old Food Safety Law is set for a major amendment this year that will increase penalties.

The State Food and Drug Administration, which oversees food and drug safety in the non-agricultural sector, had solicited legal experts' opinions on the amendment this month, said law professor Xie Zhiyong, who was at the meeting.

The administration's deputy director, Liu Peizhi , told the meeting that the law needed amendments to cope with demands for redefinition of the responsibilities of government agencies, tougher punishment for food safety violations and rules to close legal loopholes in areas such as food sold online, the minutes of the meeting said.

The law stipulates the role various government agencies should play at different stages of food production, distribution and consumption.

But a central government reshuffle in March, which saw departments in charge of food safety from various agencies integrated into the new administration means roles need updating.

"The amendment of the Food Safety Law has been made a top priority in the legislative agenda by the State Council Legal Affairs Office … the amendment will be completed this year," Liu said.

The law was passed in February 2009 after the country's biggest food safety scandal. At least six children died and 300,000 others became ill with kidney problems after drinking milk tainted with melamine. Some 22 dairy manufacturers were involved, with dairy farmers blamed for adding the chemical to raw milk to boost protein readings.

"The top leadership has been dissatisfied that food safety problems were not tackled at all, which is one important motivation for the amendment," said Du Yifang, an associate law professor at Zhejiang University of Technology.

Premier Li Keqiang repeatedly said last month that "the toughest" supervision of food and drug safety had to be set up.

"The administration has never fully addressed the failure of government supervision in the melamine-tainted milk scandal," Xie, from China University of Political Science and Law, said. "The agency for quality control was blamed for failing to inspect the chemical and farmers were sentenced as scapegoats."

The law had not achieved its goal and various food and drug safety scandals had shown that supervision was at fault, Xie said. Those scandals also showed that punishment was either absent or not working.

"The law community basically believes tougher punishment should be imposed and those not held responsible in the original law, such as government officials, should face specific punishment for their roles in food safety violations," Du said.

She said the law stipulated the responsibilities of agencies, but did not mention any punishment for those that failed. The legal community wanted the consequences of such failures to be specified in the amended law, with criminal punishment for serious cases.

Under the law, officials have until now received only administrative punishment, such as suspension from duty, and in many cases they have quietly returned to power.