Market access will be denied to any food products that fail to pass the strict scrutiny of a new system set to be in place by the end of next year, said General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (QSIQ) quality supervisor Ji Zhengkun.
Ji made the statement in Beijing on Saturday at a meeting to mark the 10th Mooncake Festival, which precedes the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival on September 28. In 2001, a nationwide mooncake scandal and subsequent crackdown by the Ministry of Health occurred when a Nanjing television station broadcast secretly filmed footage of a producer scraping mold from the previous year's cakes to recycle the fillings.
Food has been elevated to China's second largest pillar industry, with output value of more than 1 trillion yuan (US$120 billion) a year.
However, a spate of incidents in recent years, like the mooncake, contaminated rice and substandard infant milk powder scandals, have put food safety in the spotlight and prompted authorities to instigate sweeping campaigns to win back consumers' appetites.
Already, a nationwide examination of producers of five major staple foods -- wheat flour, vinegar, soy sauce, cooking oil and rice -- has resulted in the revocation of market access for more than 30,000 firms with inadequate production conditions and quality standards, Ji said.
As a result, only 22,000 producers of the five food products, or 36 percent of the total, were awarded permits to produce foods labeled with the "Quality Safe" (QS) mark. It is the first issuance of such permits.
Using the same procedures, QSIQ is applying the market access system to producers of 10 more food types, including meats, dairy products, drinks, condiments, snack noodles and biscuits.
"As of today, 2,500 out of 44,000 producers of the 10 food products have passed the market access assessment," Ji said. "We'll start clearing producers without permits from the market on July 1 (2005)."
Food products are divided into 28 categories. The market access system will be applied to the remaining 13 types by the end of 2005, according to Ji.
"With the market access arrangement, we are hoping to create fair competition between enterprises and a good environment for investors while putting consumers at ease about their food choices," he said.
Product supervision authorities will take a particularly close look at the quality of foods for children and at problems in rural areas.
Earlier this year the nation was outraged when substandard milk powder led to 13 infant deaths and malnutrition in 189 babies in Fuyang, Anhui Province.
The State Council has streamlined the country's food quality control process, which used to involve a dozen separate government agencies, Ji stated.
Under the new arrangement, the Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for quality control of raw agricultural products in the course of crop growing and animal husbandry. QSIQ oversees the processing stages of production. The State Administration for Industry and Commerce supervises food distribution, while the health departments handle the catering sector.
Ji said that a State Council circular directs that the food and drug agencies will coordinate food safety operations.
(China Daily, China.org.cn September 13, 2004)