China to set stricter food quality standard

October 23rd, 2008 - 6:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Oct 23 (Xinhua) China’s top legislature Thursday started review of a draft law on food safety which sets stricter food quality standards and demands greater government responsibility. The draft, which was revised after the recent contaminated dairy products scandal, bans all chemicals and materials other than authorized additives in food and makes health authorities responsible for assessing and approving food additives and setting their usage.

Firms flouting the rules would invite penalty which may range up to closure or revocation of production licenses in serious cases.

In the tainted dairy products scandal, melamine, often used in the manufacture of plastics, was added to substandard or diluted milk to make protein levels appear higher.

At least three infants died and more than 50,000 were sickened after drinking the contaminated milk.

The draft also prohibits food safety supervision authorities from issuing inspection exemptions to food producers.

China began exempting companies producing globally-competitive products from quality inspections in 2000 to help them avoid repeated examinations and reduce their burden.

The practice invited severe criticism when it was discovered that many of the companies producing and selling melamine-tainted dairy products had national inspection exemption qualifications.

In an effort to improve government supervision, the draft requires health agencies to conduct inspections and assessments of problematic food products as soon as they receive complaints.

Consumers started to complain about quality of products by dairy giant Sanlu Group in March, but local health departments did not pay enough attention until September when thousands of babies became ill with kidney problems.

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