China: The Rise in Interest in and Initiatives on Food Safety

|China

When talking of China and food safety, such things as the pesticide residue problem, the gyoza [dumpling] affair, and the powdered milk affair will suddenly come to mind for many people. Other than those, many problems have arisen, including food poisoning in Japan from yukke [Korean: yukhoe; English: seasoned raw beef] at yakiniku [grilled meat] restaurants, Escherichia coli O104 in Europe, and food additives (plasticizers) in Taiwan, and globally the interest of people in food safety has risen. The author has been staying in Dalian, China, for the sake of research outside of her present university. In China too, just as the interest in the issue of food safety has risen greatly, problems have recently come to light such as the use of “lean meat essence (feed additive: clenbuterol hydrochloride)” in pork and colored mantou (steamed buns) using illegal colorants and additives, and almost daily there has been a stream of news concerning food safety. Furthermore, other than in the news programs, many programs can be seen that apparently investigate and report on whether the foods that have been on sale in markets, or the foods offered at eating and drinking establishments, including restaurants, are safe. Among them, there are cases of gruesome investigative results being reported, and there are many instances that force you to think once again about food safety. For Japan, China is a major supplier of agricultural produce and processed foods, and interest is particularly high regarding Chinese food safety.

Regarding the safety of food, put plainly, there exist many stages up until it is placed on the table or in the mouths of we consumers, and meticulous management of every stage is becoming important. With the management of pesticides, fertilizers and feed in the production and harvesting stage for agricultural, livestock and fisheries produce which will become the raw ingredients, the environmental problems of the area of production, and the management of storage and hygiene and additives at the transportation and processing stages and the sale and cooking stage, food passes through the hands of various people and businesses, and is then supplied to consumers. In China also, the putting in place of legislation regarding food safety is progressing, and various laws and regulations have been formulated and revised, including: the Seed Law, the Law on Quality and Safety of Agricultural Products, the Animal Epidemic Prevention Law, the Regulations on the Control of Agricultural Chemicals, the Food Safety Law, and the Measures for the Hygienic Administration of Food Additives (abolished by the 2010 promulgation of the Administrative Measures on New Varieties of Food Additives). In addition, acknowledgement has been made of such other things as organic foods, green foods, and pollution-free foods, and the choice for the consumer has been widening. Amid prices rising, however, there seems to be no end to the companies using illegal food additives and industrial-use raw materials in order to reduce costs, and in addition, strictly controlling the use of pesticides, fertilizers and feed even in the area of the production of the raw ingredients is associated with the great difficulty for China, where there are many small-scale farmers. How to implement these laws and regulations efficiently, and also how to oversee a variety of violations have become problems, and further effort is being put into control of matters relating to food safety.

According to the Dalian Evening News dated 22 June, a food safety activity report was made at the Dalian Political Consultative Conference 11th Session 19th Standing Committee on 21 June. According to the report the Dalian food inspection success rate was over 96%, but coming into this year, the violations revealed in the results of the survey by the Food Safety Committee numbered 800-plus, of which 330-odd had cases built, the total for the fines was 500,000-plus yuan (the majority of cases are still under investigation), and fake and inferior foodstuffs of over 100 tons were discovered and seized. In addition the number of food safety cases where there were roundups by the Public Security Department was 16, 6 persons were arrested, 5.3 tons of fake honey were seized by the Quality Inspection Department, and fines of 110,000 yuan were imposed on violating firms. Other than that, problems with chili pepper, products using chickens that died from illness, and fake condiments, etc., are currently under investigation. Furthermore, they are trying to clarify, with a plan to soon put out the “Dalian City Measures for the Encouragement and Rewarding of Reporting on Food Safety (Trial)”, the range of encouragement, its subjects, the amount of money, and the procedures for provision of the reward money, in order to make smooth the reporting and prosecutions relating to food safety, and to make the resolution rate thereof 100%. And, regarding violations harmful to health, determination has been shown to raise the awareness of responsibility, the awareness of respect for the law, and crisis awareness on food safety for firms, imposing the maximum severe punishments based on the law.

As mentioned earlier, amid prices rising, cases will probably not decrease where illegal food additives and cheap industrial-use raw materials are used in order to bring costs down, or where great use is made of additives in pesticides, fertilizers and feed in order to increase crop yields. For food manufacturing and processing, operation permits, health permits, and production permits, etc., are necessary, yet there is no small number of firms which are operating without obtaining such permits. It is thought, however, that in China also interest in food safety will rise in the future, and how they will go on raising the awareness of food safety for producers and firms is a key issue; to raise such awareness, strenuous supervision and management will be necessary. Meanwhile, via the oft-mentioned rise in incomes, consumer demand for safe food, even if the price is high, is rising, and the rise in awareness of food safety is being seized as a business opportunity. Regarding the procurement of raw ingredients, they are strengthening quality control, including producing firms moving toward direct management of farms, and undertaking contract cultivation. Furthermore, so that the consumer is able to choose foods with peace of mind, in addition to the control of illegal activities, the putting in place of systems to produce, process, and distribute safe food is also important. Along with the building of traceability, the strengthening of inspection systems at the food processing and distribution stages and the making public of those results to the consumer, support for initiatives on investment in the sanitary and storage facilities of producers and processing and distribution firms, and on raising quality, will be important.

[Translated by ERINA]