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Food Safety Deserves More Guarantee

Marked worldwide for its consumer rights awareness, March 15 is a day China should take more note of seeing as the nation is vulnerable in the domestic market, according to watchdogs.

Various sources have ranked last year's consumer complaints.


Some said cellphones and related services, for the third consecutive year, were the main target of consumer complaints. You might buy a handset that does not work very well, find yourself helpless when something goes wrong with it, or perhaps be harassed endlessly by unexpected calls and messages. The causes of complaints are varied and at times bewildering.


In spite of cellphones' prominence on the black list of consumer concerns, we appreciate the decision of the China Consumers' Association, the semi-official national-level consumer rights monitor, to focus on health-related consumer rights for its awareness campaign in 2005.


No matter how troublesome it may be dealing with your cellphone, there are always ways to protect yourself.


You can buy a new set, switch to a new service provider, ignore calls and messages from unfamiliar numbers, or simply stop using your phone.


At the very least, cases of physical damage are rare.


But it is a very different story if you have to worry about the safety of the food on your dinner table.


Our talk of food security used to revolve around whether and how this nation would have enough to feed its more than 1.3 billion mouths. Today, however, we are annoyed by a new dimension of security.


According to statistics by a media-sponsored quality monitoring agency, food safety drew the most consumer complaints in the past 12 months.


Altogether, 233 participants of the just concluded National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference reportedly signed bills appealing for a special law on food safety.


Few topics saw a similar gravity on our national legislators' and political advisers' agendas.


A new law on food safety may deliver a stronger sense of security regarding what we eat.


But not all of our food troubles can be addressed through legislation.


Polluted food and water account for 120 million cases of diarrhoea a year in this country. Altogether, 200,000 to 400,000 cases of food poisoning are recorded each year. And the actual number may be nine times higher, the China Consumers' Association quoted competent authorities as saying.


From time to time, we are scared by revelations of abusive use of farm chemicals and restricted food additives, as well as inferior or even toxic raw materials in food production.


We as consumers sometimes feel at our wits' end in terms of what to eat and what not.


We do not lack rules to regulate our food chain. We do not lack the people to execute those rules. We do not lack the technical means to tell the safe from the unsafe. We have heard enough about the determination to put things in order.


But we keep receiving bad news involving the things we eat.


If things continue to go wrong, we have to check what is wrong with our approach.


We felt profound relief recently when we learned that the government would introduce a compulsory access system for all lines of food products to be examined before going to the market.


While earnestly hoping for its immediate availability, we believe it is more important that every person paid to take care of our food does his/her job faithfully, and every rule regarding food safety is properly followed.


The Beijing Consumers' Association says 10 per cent of the so-called green food in Beijing stores is not green at all.


A Green Peace survey published on Monday said some multinational food producers concealed the information that some of their products sold in China used genetically modified materials.


And authorities nationwide are still trying to track down Sudan I, a carcinogenic colouring agent some companies use in food production, in circulation in our market.


There is too much to be done to protect our people from unsafe food.


The chances of damage may indeed be reduced through heightened consumer awareness.


But a lot more has to be done by those paid to safeguard our safety.


(China Daily March 16, 2005)


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