NPC Chews Over Food Hygiene

Lawmakers and political advisers sunk their teeth into the issue of food hygiene and safety at the current National People's Congress (NPC) session.

Alarmed by a spate of food scares including wax-polished rice and unsafe food additives last year, Chinese legislators have called for a prompt revision of the country's Food Hygiene Law, which they claimed was outdated and filled with loopholes.

Li Kuinan, a deputy attending the fifth session of the NPC, yesterday said China has registered an increasing number of food poisoning cases in recent years.

Her own investigations suggested the figure could be as high as 200,000 cases each year.

Reports of tainted rice and flour and contaminated edible oil crop up on occasions, she said.

Li was among at least 480 legislators and members of the Ninth National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) who vented the concerns and complaints about the country's food safety situation, according to sources with NPC's Education, Science, Culture and Health Committee.

China's Food Hygiene Law, enacted in 1995, has played a role in safeguarding food safety, Li said.

But as the situation has changed over the past years, especially as some enterprises have put profits before quality and safety by using food additives and farm chemicals that are detrimental to consumers' health.

The law should improve hygiene standards effectively, she said.

In her motion to the NPC, the lawmaker said examination of the residues of pesticides in food should be intensified, and China should refer to the World Food Code to improve its food standards and cap the maximum allowable residues in food.

Xu Zuxiong, another NPC deputy, criticized current food statutes for inappropriately penalizing those who churned out fake and shoddy food products - fining them in accordance with how much they earned from their malpractice.

"In many cases, those who produce or sell inferior and even unsafe food products do not make much money but could cause many adverse effects in society," Xu said.

"So the punishment should be decided by combining the illegal proceeds, the consequences and social damage caused by the wrong-doers."

In 2001, China destroyed 8,553 tons of food which failed to meet hygiene standards, and fined 63.32 million yuan (US$7.6 million), according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Health.

( China Daily March 14, 2002)

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