China's top legislature on Thursday started to review 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, would ban all chemicals and materials other than authorized additives in food production.
Health authorities are responsible for assessing and approving food additives and setting their usage. "Only those proved to be safe and necessary in food production are allowed to be listed as food additives," the draft says.
Food producers must strictly stick to the food additives and their usage approved by authorities, on penalty of closure or revocation of production licenses in serious cases, according to the draft.
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 encountered 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 the product quality problem of dairy giant Sanlu Group in March, but local health departments didn't pay enough attention until September.
the draft law also requires a quick and transparent reporting system, saying that enterprises, hospitals and quality supervision agencies should immediately report all food safety incidents to health authorities.
"No organizations, institutions or individuals should cover up, lie about or delay reporting food safety incidents. Destroying evidence is strictly forbidden," the draft says.
The draft was tabled to lawmakers at a bimonthly session of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC).
It underwent its first reading in December. In April, it was opened to public scrutiny and more than 11,000 submissions were made to the lawmaking body.
(Xinhua News Agency October 23, 2008)