Grip to tighten on fake and low-quality food

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 June, 2007, 12:00am

Mainland unveils strategy to defeat illegal traders as row grows over adulterated goods

Mainland officials have unveiled a plan to improve food and drug safety which includes drawing up a 'blacklist' of problematic exporters, as the government faces international pressure following a string of scandals over tainted products.

The five-year plan pledges to improve supervision over the food and drug industries to 'encourage social harmony and stability'. It was approved by the State Council in April and was finally published this week.

China is facing condemnation after wheat gluten contaminated with melamine was used in pet food, causing the deaths of animals in the United States. Meanwhile, cough syrup and toothpaste tainted with diethylene glycol raised alarms in Latin America. Yesterday Singapore banned three types of Chinese-made toothpaste due to similar worries.

The plan made no reference to specific cases. However, it pledged to publish lists of both good and bad food traders.

The government aimed to establish systems to trace and recall exported products and step up electronic supervision and management of companies producing food for export, the plan said.

Despite years of trying, the mainland's drive to crack down on fake and low-quality food and drugs has failed to stamp out the problem.

Foreign analysts say unregulated capitalism, coupled with corruption and lack of an independent media, have made it difficult to take effective measures.

In China's most notorious case, revealed in 2004, baby milk powder lacking sufficient nutritional value caused the deaths of at least 13 infants in Anhui province.

The plan vows to 'severely crack down' on producers of fake and low-quality food, drugs and medical devices.

In a case reported yesterday, Shanghai prosecutors charged a brother and sister for allegedly manufacturing and selling counterfeit health foods for more than 4 million yuan.

The siblings set up a factory in the city's Minhang district and hired more than 10 workers.

Former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, was also recently sentenced to death for taking bribes in return for approving drugs.

The plan said the country would strengthen its emergency response system for major accidents, believed to include mass food poisoning cases, as well as other 'sudden' incidents.

In acknowledgment of the scale of corruption, the plan said 'society' could play a bigger role in supervising food and drug safety. Industry groups and the media could be more open to discontent among the public, as long as it was within the law, it said.

Officials would be held responsible for food and drug safety and would be required to hold regular evaluations of the situation. Companies were also told to police themselves.

The plan said a guarantee that government bodies would have adequate funding, technology and personnel to do the job was key to improving supervision and enforcement of the law.

Still, the plan gave the country high marks despite media reports of numerous cases of counterfeit goods. 'In the past five years, food and drug supervision and management has gradually become more complete,' it said.