China beefs up Food Safety Law

*China Daily Report*

BEIJING – The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s top legislature, adopted an amendment to the 2009 Food Safety Law on Friday with the heaviest penalties yet for offenders.

With 154 articles, compared with 104 in the original law, the revamped Food Safety Law adds new articles and provisions on baby formula and online shopping.

Chinese people have been shocked by many food safety scandals in recent years, including injecting clenbuterol into pork, recycled cooking oil, selling pork from sick pigs, medicines made with toxic gelatin and passing off rat and fox meat as fit for human consumption.

The revised law gives heavier punishment to offenders, increasing the cost for violating the legislation, said Huang Wei with the Commisison for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee.

The new law will go into effect on Oct 1.

Stiffer penalties

The revised law brings harsher civil, administrative and criminal penalties for offenders and their supervisors.

The amendment introduces administrative detention for offenders. Those who add inedible substances to food could find themselves behind bars for up to 15 days. Administrative detention normally refers to that imposed by police without court proceedings. This has been considered tough as other punishments stipulated in the Food Safety Law generally involves fines and revocation of certificates.

Buyers also get better protection. Consumers can demand reparation of three times any loss they suffer from substandard food. Previously, only compensation of 10 times the price of the food was allowed. Substandard food can be very cheap and can cause very serious problems with consequential losses, hence the new rule guarantees that consumers can get higher compensation.

Bigger fines for offenders are also on the menu. Producers may face fines of up to 30 times the value of their products, up from 10 times. If the products are worth less than 10,000 yuan (1,630 U.S. dollars), the fined can be up to 150,000 yuan, three times the previous amount.

The amendment adds provisions for landlords of production sites who turn a blind eye to illegal activities on the premises, and suppliers who sell unlawful substances to producers, knowing that they will be added to foods. Their revenue can be seized and they can be fined up to 200,000 yuan.

Administrative penalties, such as demotion and dismissal, will be imposed on officials with food and drug regulators who fail in their duty to protect the public or connive in cover-ups. Similar punishments will be dished out to officials in health and agriculture departments. Abuse of power and neglect of duty for personal gain may precipitate criminal penalties.

Baby formula

Infant milk formula will be heavily regulated to restore public confidence in the domestic dairy industry.

Producers will be required to register powdered baby milk formula with the food and drug regulator. Earlier provisions stipulated that firms only needed to ensure their formulas were on record.

There are more than 1,900 varieties of baby formula available in China. Each company has around 20 varieties. In other countries, firms produce and sell only two or three.

“Some producers are creating new formulas purely for the sake of marketing,” according to the Food and Drug Administration.

In 2008, infant formula produced by the Sanlu Group, a leading dairy firm in north China, was found to contain melamine. Six babies died and thousands fell ill. As a result, the first Food Safety Law was enacted in 2009 but public confidence in domestic baby formula has not recovered. Instead, consumers have demanded baby formula from countries like Australia, New Zealand and Germany, which now have strict export quotas for China.

Producers will now have to test every batch of their product, conduct regular internal inspections and submit reports to regulators.

Online shopping

Online shopping has become part of daily life in China. Food producers are expanding their business to instant messaging services like WeChat.

China’s online retail sales totaled 1.85 trillion yuan in 2013, with food eating up 32.4 billion, and problems concerning food safety have emerged. To keep up, the amendment adds new articles on online shopping, clarifying the liabilities of shopping platforms. They are required to register the real identity of vendors and check their certificates. The platforms will have to compensate consumers if they cannot provide the identity, address and contact details of retailers.

They should also report malpractice to the government and deny access to delinquent retailers.

*China Daily Report*