Food safety to become priority of ministry

08:19, February 16, 2011      

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In the next five years, China's top health authority plans to make ensuring food safety into one of its "major health service projects", in a change meant to better protect the public from occasional food safety hazards.

Health Minister Chen Zhu made the remarks at a national conference on food safety and health inspection held in Wuxi, East China's Jiangsu province, according to a circular posted on the health ministry's website on Monday.

"Reducing and eliminating food-safety problems and related crimes is a long, arduous and complicated process," he said. "It needs enhanced coordination and cooperation among related departments like the Ministry of Health and the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine."

Making food safety into a goal of such projects would mean "more government spending for that purpose" and "more devotion to the task, particularly among local authorities", Wu Ming, a professor at Peking University's school of public health, told China Daily.

In mid 2009, China launched a group of initiatives deemed to be major public health service projects. Among other goals, the projects were aimed at ensuring that a larger portion of the populace is inoculated against hepatitis B and that women in rural places were giving access to screenings used to detect breast and cervical cancer. Such services were offered free of charge.

Food and water safety is also high among the ministry's priorities in 2011, according to an online document issued by the ministry on Monday, but it is not yet the objective of a major public health service project.

Chen Xiaohong, vice-minister of health, was quoted by Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday as saying that the ministry will also improve its responses to ailments or poisonings caused by tainted food.

The ministry will issue procedures "as early as possible" stipulating how officials should investigate and respond to breaches of food-safety standards, he said at a national meeting on the subject in Beijing. It will also provide better training for officials and professionals charged with protecting public health, he said.

Food safety has increasingly become a concern in China following a series of cases involving contamination and the illegal use of prohibited ingredients and additives in foodstuffs.

In 2008, baby formula tainted with melamine killed at least six infants and sickened about 300,000 children, according to official figures.

By Shan Juan, China Daily
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