Food safety under fire

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-02-11 15:00
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The Tuesday launching of the State Council Food Safety Committee to be headed by Vice-Premier Li Keqiang was stamped with the central government's special attention to food safety. It also sends the message that plenty of retooling is needed for the food safety monitoring system.

The re-emergence of melamine-contaminated dairy products should serve as a reminder that the bankruptcy of Sanlu, a well-known dairy product company, and the execution of the culprit and imprisonment of major offenders in the 2008 scandal have not cleaned up the food industry.

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The milk powder containing melamine should have been destroyed. The fact that it wasn't and was re-used by dairy product manufacturers shows how scrupulous these manufacturers are in pursuing a profit without any concern for the health of consumers. It also suggests that the food safety monitoring system at various levels does not work.

Let us not forget that dairy products from Sanlu were exempted from quality checks by the food safety department. After the Sanlu scandal, the amended rule stipulated that all dairy products from any food companies will never enjoy this privilege. That meant food safety inspectors were supposed to check all dairy products. Consumers should have been assured about the milk they were drinking.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. When 10 tons of melamine-contaminated milk powder were sold to South China's Guangdong province from northwestern Shaanxi province, the inspection report provided by the local quality supervision and inspection bureau showed that the powder did not contain melamine.

Had all food safety supervision and inspection workers performed their duties it would have been impossible for the re-emergence of the melamine-contaminated dairy products in the market. It is quite likely that some food safety supervisors contributed to their re-emergence by turning a blind eye to the problematic products and possibly pocketing some bribes.

For the new top government department for food safety, it is no easy job to overhaul the food safety monitoring and supervisory system. Tightening control of food safety simply by implementing new rules or reiterating strict enforcement of the existing rules will not be enough.

The country's food safety law took effect on June 1 last year, and regulations on the disclosure of government information less than a year earlier in 2008. Consumers should have felt assured about the food they had been eating had all these legal codes been carried out to the letter.

This top food safety administration must make sure that all food safety cases be thoroughly investigated and all who are involved be brought to justice.

This is important. If many who have benefited from the illegal business could get away with their offences, they would certainly defy the rules and do it again. More will likely follow suit since the chances of being caught and punished are quite slim.

Any posture of simply paying more attention or making minor adjustments in policy will hardly get us anywhere in fundamentally solving the problem.