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Lawmakers demand reform of China's food monitoring system


08:14, March 04, 2013

BEIJING, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Chinese lawmakers and political advisors have urged the government to restructure the country's food supervisory system to regain customer confidence as Hong Kong's newly-adopted purchase ban on baby formula refueled the public's concerns over food safety.

Zhu Lieyu, a deputy to the National People's Congress, said Sunday that China's food monitoring system should be streamlined as the system is fractured and has many loopholes.

China's current food safety system involves at least five departments, including health, agriculture, quality supervision, industry and commerce administration, and food and drug supervision. Insufficient communication and coordination among those agencies often resulted in low work efficiency and supervision loopholes.

A string of food safety scandals, particularly the one in 2008 when the melamine-tainted baby formula caused the deaths of at least six infants and sickened 300,000 others, have crippled customer confidence.

The Chinese government has taken a slew of measures to intensify supervision and management of the food industry since 2008.

The State Council issued a regulation in July 2012 with aims to improve benchmark mechanisms, technical support for food safety, and the food industry's overall performance in the area over the next five years.

Authorities have declared that 99 percent of baby formula milk on the mainland meets relevant quality standards.

"Yet, so many people still rush to purchase milk powder from overseas, which shows that they still lack confidence in mainland's milk industry," said another national lawmaker Peng Weiping from east China's Anhui Province.

Surging demand of buyers from the mainland led to a chronic shortage of some popular brands of baby formula in Hong Kong's retail market, arousing dismay of local residents and prompting authorities to adopt restrictive measures.

Beginning Friday, people leaving Hong Kong can take no more than two tins (1.8 kg in weight) of infant milk formula with them.

Violators could face a fine of 500,000 Hong Kong dollars, or 64,500 U.S. dollars, and even prison terms of up to two years.

Already, 25 violators who bought more than two tins a day have been detained, eight of whom from the Chinese mainland.

Zong Qinghou, a beverage magnate and also an NPC deputy, has urged strict legal supervision for China's milk industry, suggesting that those "black sheep" in the sector should be sent to prison.

"Personally, I do not quite understand the new regulation of Hong Kong," said Zong, who is in Beijing to attend the upcoming annual legislative session. "But taking Hong Kong as a mirror, we can see the inadequacy of lawmaking and law-enforcement in food safety on the Chinese mainland."

Legislators maintain that too many agencies are responsible for food safety, leading to overlapping or ambiguous areas in their fields of supervisory responsibilities.

In order to uplift customer confidence, some have proposed the single integrated department that many believe will help strengthen supervision.

"The large department, covering all supervision niches on food safety, will be held accountable for not dealing with food safety incidents," said Zhu, a lawyer from Guangdong Province.

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