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Better Late Than Never
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The five-year plan on food and drug safety administration, the first of its kind, comes rather late compared with China's many other development blueprints drawn for the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10) period.

However, it is no less important. In fact, without doubled efforts to ensure better food and drug safety, the country's achievements in social and economic development will stand diluted.

The State Council recently issued the plan to improve monitoring and law enforcement in food and drug production so as to reduce risks to public safety.

According to the plan, the food safety-information monitoring network will cover 90 percent of the country by 2010. Drug quality inspection will also be strengthened in the coming years.

These goals are pertinent to the country's reality.

While the Chinese economy has been expanding at a double-digit rate for years, reports of food and drug safety accidents have also been increasing at a rate that has added considerably to public apprehension.

Frequent exposure of cases where low-quality raw materials and even poisonous industrial additives have been mixed with food to reduce costs has made consumers nervous.

Worse, a number of fatal accidents arising from lax drug safety in recent years have further shaken people's confidence in the public health system which already falls far short of expectations. The recent case of Zheng Xiaoyu, the former chief of the State Food and Drug Administration, accused of taking bribes, is compelling evidence of how big the loopholes in regulation might have been.

The Chinese authorities have realized that such loopholes if left unfixed, go against efforts to raise living standards, which is the underlying goal of the country's social and economic development. Hence, the government has responded with the new five-year plan on food and drug safety administration.

Undoubtedly, to fulfil the plan's goals, governments at all levels will have to substantially increase expenditure on infrastructure construction for food and drug safety.

More public spending is desirable but not enough for it does not ensure enhanced supervision.

To ensure effective supervision of food and drug safety, it is necessary to make the organizations responsible for inspection and administration more accountable to the public. And to that end, more public scrutiny should be introduced as soon as possible during implementation of the new plan.

(China Daily May 14, 2007)

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