The Chinese legislature has passed the Food Safety Law. In effect June 1 of this year, the law outlines major change in the Chinese food market. Changes of particular Interest:
- Improved Regulation. The new law overwrites and replaces all previous food safety law in China, in an effort to unify the system and have even enforcement. The Food Safety law still diverts some of its power to other departments within the Chinese government, including health, agriculture, and industry.
- Improved Monitoring. First and foremost, the new law does away with the “trusted” company system – where a company deemed trustworthy is left largely unsupervised. In the Sanlu disaster, it was found that many of these trusted companies were not so trustworthy.
Also in terms of monitoring, the new law establishes a risk assessment program which will monitor the industry and determine amendments to the regulation as they deem it necessary. If a product was found to conform to the current laws, yet still posed a significant danger, it is within the ability of the program to amend law in such a way as to prohibit the product.
- Improved Enforcement – No Chinese law is complete without a harsh punishment. Those found in noncompliance with the new law are liable civilly up to 10 times the price of the product being sold, and potentially liable criminally for their offense. In the Sanlu case, two executives were sentence to death one received a life sentence.
Experts agree that this will not change the landscape of Chinese food manufacturing immediately, nor does it create any fundamental shift in Chinese law towards food safety and regulation. In contrast, it is simply an effort to centralize Chinese law. Many hoped that this legislation would have enacted an umbrella organization to oversee food manufacturing in China, similar to the Food & Drug Administration here in America.
In reality, this law fails to meet its obligation to not only the Chinese people, but to all countries who import Chinese products. It fails because it gives no real assurance that another disaster will be averted. Supporters of the new law say that it is “impossible” to eliminate the threat of another disaster, which is certainly a true statement. The law doesn’t address the concern, though, that with the outrageous number of factories and manufacturing plants in China, enforceability is difficult at the central government level except when a “risk” rises to an unspecified level. Even more basic, the law does not affect any food not intended for humans, such as pet food. Cases such as tainted pet food go unaffected by this legislation.
All of these changes in Chinese food regulation appear more administrative than substantive. It does little to further protect Americans who consume imported Chinese-manufactured food and additives.
Finally, perhaps to put things in perspective when comparing Chinese food safety to our own, the Shanghai Daily tells its readers, “when choosing food, be cautious if the products take on an unnatural glow.”