China has introduced a tough food-safety law approved on Saturday, promising harsher punishments for makers of spurious products. Recurring food scares have revealed China's patchy regulatory system.
The Chinese health ministry today said that the nation's food-safety situation is grim consequent to a string of public health embarrassments (scares), the latest of which killed at least six babies and made another 300,000 sick.
"At present, China's food security situation remains grim, with high risks and contradictions popping out," a news release of the ministry said.
The law, which took five years to complete, makes firm the numerous regulations and standards covering the country's myriad food companies.
Despite China's approving in essence a new food-safety law in October 2007 on the heels of scandals involving products such as toothpaste, seafood and pet food, the baby health food scandal sprang up with the diagnosis of kidney stones in babies who had been fed milk products with the industrial chemical melamine added to it.
The health scare led to shelves worldwide being stripped of Chinese-made goods.
WHO's food safety chief called China's food-safety system ''disjointed'' and conjectured that communication gaps between the ministries and agencies may have kept up the poisonings.
Capital punishment for two people for producing or selling the tainted milk (See: Two sentenced to death in China's tainted milk scandal), and the jailing of the chief of the dairy producer Sanlu Group, have not stemmed the fallout from the scare.
A group of people citing the illnesses developed by their children from drinking the adulterated milk are suing a dairy company for damages. However, whether the court would accept the case, is a different matter (remains to be seen).
The law gives special consideration to the issue of food supplements. The law bars the use of additives, unless their necessity and safety are proved according to the law, which takes effect on June 1.
The Chinese establishment, which beefed up inspections on the back of the pet food scandal, still struggles to control its innumerable small operations.
An official of the agriculture ministry admitted the difficulties of regulating the quality and safety of scattered farming operations. "We deem it important to regulate these food producers and traders according to law," she said.
Last year a UN report said that small undertakings fly in the face of China's food-safety regulation.
The law, in its multipronged approach, entails monitoring, national standards, punitive action, and product recall.
The law states that the China's cabinet would set up a state-level food safety commission.
Harder punitive actions under the law include cancellation of licenses and punitive damages, where companies and individuals could be legally obligated for compensation besides facing criminal charges.