CHINA: The dos and don’ts for food safety
Posted: June 19th, 2011 - 3:48pm
Source: China Daily
Haihu, director of Hong Kong Food Science and Technology Association and a professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, writes in this opinion piece that food safety is a global issue. In recent years, incidents of food poisoning and discovery of carcinogens in food products have increased. Of late, an E. coli outbreak linked to salad vegetables has killed 39 people and left hundreds of others seriously ill in Germany. And DEHP, a plastic additive, has been detected in Taiwan-made food products and drinks.
As a supplier to major international markets, China is responsible for ensuring the safety of made-in-China food products. But food safety scandals have been reported at regular intervals on the Chinese mainland. The past few months alone have seen quite a few food safety scandals: dyes used in steamed buns, tainted "beef" and "lean meat powder". They have created panic among consumers, minimized their choices and stained China's image.
The mainland, therefore needs to reform its food safety system, and it can do so by taking a leaf out of Hong Kong's book on food safety supervision.
The mainland should streamline its food safety supervision mechanism and use its administrative resources to eliminate food safety problems. In Hong Kong, for instance, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and its affiliated Center for Food Safety are the only food safety watchdogs. The department regularly publishes pamphlets and distributes them free among residents and food producers to spread knowledge about food safety and the city's food regulations.
On the mainland, however, food safety watchdogs are scattered across different levels and have overlapping powers. As a result, food producers don't know whose regulations to follow. Worse, whenever a food safety scandal breaks out, quite a number of government departments, supposed to be in charge, have tried to shirk their responsibilities. Some local governments, in their eagerness to propel economic growth, have even shielded food producers that violate the country's food safety regulations.
The Hong Kong administration has made some other noteworthy efforts, too, to ensure food safety. Earlier this year, Hong Kong's Legislative Council enacted the Food Safety Bill, which will come into force in August. The bill introduces a system to register food importers, distributors and their import/export records. Even local fishermen have to register and furnish their fishing records. This will make it easier for the government to identify the source of contamination in case of a food safety scandal, and take immediate action.
To better enforce its food safety laws, the mainland should establish a similar food supervision system.
Hong Kong is also known for its system of accountability. No serious food safety poisoning case has been reported in the city in the near past. And whenever a food safety problem has arisen, regardless of its impact, food producers and food safety supervision officials have accepted their legal responsibilities. In fact, government officials are the ones to be rebuked the most by the Legislative Council.