China unveils draft regulation on food safety

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April 23 – China has released the latest draft of its food safety laws that will mete out penalties ranging from fines to life imprisonment for those found guilty of producing substandard food.

The public is being encouraged to voice their opinion on the draft law on the NPC website until May 20.

In a new government initiative, all draft laws are now subject for public comment to allow more participation in politics and new legislation.

“In principle, all draft laws submitted to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee for review will be released in full text to solicit public opinions,” the NPC Standing Committee stated in a press release.

The food safety draft will also call for penalties such as confiscation of income from sales and revocation of license for violators. According to the draft, fines will range from RMB5,000 to RMB100,000. It will cover food safety issues that aim to improve the industry: food safety evaluation, monitoring, recall and information release.

According to the Associated Press, one food industry official suggested that the government should also educate producers on better practices and not just impose fines.

“Penalties and violations are not enough, it has to be a comprehensive process, a continuous process, not just a one-time fine,” James Rice, country manager for greater China for food manufacturer Tyson Foods Inc, told the AP.

The draft was submitted for its first hearing at the NPC Standing Committee since December. The schedule for the final approval of the law remains tentative.

The draft comes in the wake of last year’s spate of food safety scandals that garnered global furor when Chinese exports like toothpaste, pet food and fish were banned due to quality concerns.

Even Chinese industries catering to the domestic market have been under fire when cases of poisoning and deaths were linked to tainted goods. Such food-related incidents exposed vegetables with pesticide residue, fish contaminated with suspected carcinogens and eggs sold with industrial dyes.

According to China’s General Administration of Customs, food exports to Japan plunged by 17 percent in January and 30 percent in February when at least 10 Japanese claimed to have been sick due to pesticide-laced frozen dumplings from China. Japan is China’s third-largest export market for food products.