Public to be given more food safety information

08:09, November 11, 2010      

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The government vowed on Tuesday to make more information available to the public regarding food safety and announced a number of ministries will be involved in the initiative.

A document, issued jointly by various departments including the ministries of health, commerce, and the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, detailed the new measures, including making it a routine matter for the public to be told of food safety issues and information concerning any possible risks.

The measure comes just a little more than a year after China enacted its food safety law, which provides a legal basis for consumer rights.

Previous to the law, information regarding food safety was difficult for the public to access and often came through media reports.

"In many cases, from milk powder to the crayfish, false news was occasionally delivered to consumers and this hurt public confidence in China's food safety and the government's credibility," said Deng Haihua, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, the main government agency in charge of overseeing food safety.

The new regulations define exactly what information should be publicized and under which government departments.

The major categories, such as general food safety, test results, product alerts, and any potential crisis will be publicized by the Ministry of Health through its website and the media.

The regulations also state that communication should be enhanced among different food safety authorities, particularly before publicizing any information.

"Ensuring food safety involves several government departments, therefore cooperation is vital," Deng said.

Given China's rapid development, authorities should take a more active and preemptive approach in informing people, he added.

Zhang Jian, a food safety researcher with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, agreed.

"Only in that way can consumers get credible and scientific guidance," he said.

Food safety has been a major issue in China in recent years and an informed public is vital to maintain standards, Peter Ben Embarek, food safety officer at the World Health Organization's China Office, told China Daily on Tuesday.

"Consumer education and a free flow of information is the key to improving food safety and enables people to make the right decision," he said.

Additives, chemical residue and antibiotics used in animal feed threatened food quality, he said.

"It (the regulation) came at the right time ... and is a good implementation of the food-safety law," he said.

In a recent food safety scandal, authorities in Central China's Hunan province admitted a local watchdog failed to warn the public of problems with a well-known edible oil, five months after they found excessive carcinogens in the product and ordered recalls.

The scandal, after being revealed by the media, sparked nationwide debate on the lack of quality supervision at both provincial and national levels.

"There is no specific regulation on how long it should take, after problems have been discovered, for information to be made public," an anonymous source at Hunan's quality control authority said in an earlier interview.

By Shan Juan, China Daily


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