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Govt gets tough on food safety, quality

By Jin Zhu (China Daily)

08:20, February 10, 2012

BEIJING - Chinese authorities punished a total of nearly 290 people in more than 5,200 food safety cases in 2011, according to new figures.

Sources with the State Council's Food Safety Committee said on Thursday that those who violated food safety laws were handed stiff sentences, including life imprisonment and the death penalty with probation, a special form of punishment in China in which a death sentence can be reduced to life imprisonment if the person commits no new crimes.

Law enforcement authorities closed more than 5,000 enterprises involved in food safety crimes and also gave administrative punishments to government officials for misconduct related to the cases.

Health Minister Chen Zhu admitted on Wednesday that China's food safety standards are in urgent need of improvement following a spate of food safety scandals, reported Xinhua News Agency.

Chen said the total number of national food standards, local standards and industrial standards has topped 5,000, and many of them overlap or contradict each other. He said this is the motivation behind the Ministry of Health's announcement last month that it will overhaul and streamline the current standards.

Chen noted deficiencies in some vital assessment measures, such as the lack of processes to ensure the quality of food packaging.

Some current food standards have become outdated, requiring officials to devise new standards, Chen said.

The Ministry of Health issued a draft on revised food standards last month and will be soliciting public feedback until the end of February.

The minister said the sluggish pace of research on national food standards and the country's fledgling risk evaluation system have hindered the construction of national food standards.

Chen also said the regulation of food safety is falling behind in part due to the shortage of professional technical management organs.

An outline for China's quality-control development (2011-2020), issued by the State Council on Thursday, stressed the importance of improving the quality of Chinese products. According to the document, the issue is vital to the country's sustainable development, the public welfare as well as the nation's image.

Serious economic losses due to substandard products, environmental pollution and food safety scandals are still prevalent, according to the outline.

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