II. Food Safety Regulatory System and Work
To ensure food safety, the Chinese government adheres to the principle of giving priority to prevention and control at its root by monitoring and controlling the whole process, and has formed a regulatory format in which the local governments take the responsibility, related departments provide guidance and conduct coordination, and different sectors make concerted efforts under the unified national leadership. In response to the circumstances in China, the State Council issued the Decision on Further Strengthening Food Safety Supervision in 2004, according to which one monitoring link is supervised by one department; sectional supervision is adopted as the main means while supervision of different varieties as the supplementary means, making clearer the functions and responsibilities of the food safety supervisory departments. The Decision divided food safety supervision into four links, managed by the departments of agriculture, quality supervision and inspection, industry and commerce, and health, respectively. The production of primary agricultural products is supervised by the agriculture department, the quality and daily hygiene supervision of food processing is overseen by the quality supervision and inspection department, supervision of food circulation and distribution is done by the department of industry and commerce, and that of the catering industry and canteens is taken care of by the health department. The integrated food-safety supervision and coordination, and investigation of and penalties imposed for major incidents in this regard are the responsibility of the department of food and drug administration, while imported and exported agricultural products and other foodstuffs are supervised by the quality supervision and inspection department. In this way, there is a strict, complete regulatory system for food safety supervision in which the departments concerned work in close cooperation, with clearly defined functions and responsibilities.
As it is a prolonged and arduous task to strengthen food safety control, a regulatory system and a lasting efficiency mechanism should be established and improved, and planned with consideration given to both present and future needs to deal with both the symptoms and root causes of food safety problems, especially the latter.
The Chinese government stresses food safety from the source, improvement of the related basic regulatory systems, and strengthening of food safety supervision.
1. Intensifying Supervision on the Quality and Safety of Agricultural Products
In 2001, China started to implement the Hazard-free Food Action Plan, focusing on the control of residue of high-toxic pesticides in vegetables and clenbuterol hydrochloride contamination in livestock products, to address the most concerned problems of illegal use of high-toxic pesticide and veterinary medicines, as well as violations of residue standards. The Plan stipulates a complete supervisory process from farmland to market by emphasizing the three key aspects of materials used in farming, production and market excess. By carrying out regular monitoring and inspection, the Plan aims at enhancing people's awareness of food quality and safety, ensuring management responsibility, and improving the levels of management and quality and safety of agricultural products by means of standardization. Today, the system for securing the quality and safety of agricultural products is improving, with steadily strengthened supervisory capacity and notable progress in agricultural standardization, leading to the formation of a work mechanism integrating service, management, supervision, penalty and emergency response, to ensure the quality and safety of agricultural products.
2. Establishing and Strictly Implementing Market Access Systems for Food Quality and Safety
The food quality and safety market access systems established by the Chinese government in 2001 comprise three major ones. One, the production license system, which requires that food-processing enterprises cannot produce and market their products without having the capability to control the source materials' quality, and the adequate conditions to ensure food quality and safety in terms of production equipment, technological flow, product standardization, testing equipment and capability, environment, quality control, storage and transportation, packaging and labeling, and production staff. Enterprises can produce and sell food only after obtaining a food production license. Two, the compulsory inspection system, which means that enterprises have the legal obligation to ensure that their food products pass quality inspection before entering the market. Three, the market access labeling system, i.e., enterprises are required to put on food products the QS label, guaranteeing their quality and safety. Following the principle of phased implementation, by the end of June 2007, some 107,000 food production licenses had been issued to enterprises, which took up over 90 percent of the market of their trades. Meanwhile, supervision has been strengthened over enterprises with food production licenses. By the end of June 2007, 1,276 food production licenses had been withdrawn, cancelled, revoked or nullified for substandard food products. In pace with the growing number of enterprises obtaining the license, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine has released lists of such enterprises, making clear that producers without the license and products without the QS label must not enter the market, and warning consumers not to use such products.
3. Intensifying State Supervision by Sample Survey for Food Quality
The Chinese government carries out a food supervision and inspection system mainly by means of sample survey. Since it was set up in 1985, the system has been strengthened and become more focused to enhance its efficiency. In recent years, daily-consumption food items, such as dairy products, meat products, tea, beverages, grain and edible oil, have become the major targets of sample surveys, especially those produced in workshops and enterprises located in concentrated food-producing areas. Special attention has been given to the hygienic indices of microorganisms, additives and heavy metals in food, and to follow-up inspections of small enterprises with unstable product quality. By increasing sample survey frequency and coverage, the goal of rectifying producers of the same type of food by means of sample survey has been by and large met. The state supervisory sample surveys were carried out on 11,104 batches of foodstuffs produced by 7,880 enterprises from 2006 to June 2007. Meanwhile, greater efforts have been made to rectify and punish enterprises turning out substandard products, and to set things straight by means of the following: First, strictly implementing the public announcement system. Three hundred and fifty-five batches of food with serious quality problems produced by 355 enterprises were found in sample surveys and publicly announced. At the same time, publicity is given to good enterprises, quality products and sound brands. Two hundred and forty products winning the title of "Famous Chinese Brand" and 548 freed-from-inspection products have become popular among consumers. Second, strictly carrying out the rectification system. Enterprises with substandard products are urged to rectify themselves strictly, to be examined again in due course. If problems persist, they will be ordered to stop production for an overhaul. If they still cannot pass the inspection after the overhaul, their business licenses will be revoked. Third, strictly implementing the penalty system. Producers who mix impurities or imitations with their products, or pass fake or defective products off as genuine ones will be ordered to stop production, and their products be confiscated. Legal liabilities will be imposed in serious cases by the judicial organs.
4. Intensifying Rectification of Food Workshops
Regional differences and disparities between urban and rural areas in China make the supervision of food workshops a prolonged and arduous task. At present, food workshops with fewer than ten employees are the ones that pose the most difficult problem for ensuring food quality and safety. For workshops engaged in traditional, low-risk food processing, the government sticks to the principle of supervision and standardization while giving guidance to such workshops for consumers' convenience. On the one hand, the government has tried to upgrade them to the market-access requirements by means of shutdown, stoppage of production, merging or changing line of business; on the other, more stringent supervisory measures have been taken to prevent food safety accidents. In recent years, supervision of workshops and small enterprises has been conducted mainly in four aspects: One, transformation of basic work conditions. Workshops cannot start production without meeting the requirements. Two, restrictions on market scope. Food products processed by such small workshops are not allowed to sell outside the administrative areas of townships or towns in which they are located, not allowed to enter shopping centers and supermarkets. Three, restrictions on food packaging. Before obtaining a market access permit, food products from the workshops are not allowed to have marketing package, so that they cannot enter the market disguised as licensed goods. Four, public undertaking. Food workshops must undertake to the public that they do not use any non-food materials, misuse additives, use recycled food, send their products to shopping centers or supermarkets, or market their products beyond the approved region, and guarantee that their food products meet the basic safety and hygienic standards. After such rectifications, the average acceptance rate in sample surveys of food workshops rose to 70.4 percent in 2006. By the end of June 2007, 5,631 workshops had been closed down, 8,814 had been made to suspend production, and 5,385 had reached the requirements after rectification.
5. Promoting the Responsibility System for Regional Food Safety Control
The responsibility system for regional food safety control mainly comprises the following aspects. First, to have specified persons responsible for specified regions and enterprises. The system requires that food safety inspectors of the quality supervision and inspection department go to the townships to supervise the food-processing enterprises; township government coordinators assist the inspectors in supervising food quality and safety; and local reporters bring to attention anything illegal regarding food quality and safety. The number of inspectors, coordinators and local reporters must be fixed, their duties defined, and their working areas and inspecting enterprises designated. Second, the system requires "three enters" and "four graphs." The former refers to entering villages, households and enterprises to find out their working conditions and set up files of food producers and processors; the latter refers to drawing up a graph showing dynamic changes in enterprises, a graph showing the distribution of food producers and processors, a graph showing the implementation of supervisory duties, and a graph giving food safety precautions, so as to carry out proactive monitoring and control. Third, the system requires local governments to sign documents of responsibility, enterprises to sign letters of undertaking, and quality supervision and inspection departments to submit regular food safety reports.
By the end of June 2007, a total of 16,030 food-safety supervision regions had been set up, 25,346 full-time food-safety inspectors had been put to work, 72,474 local government coordinators had been appointed, and 106,573 food-safety reporters had been recruited in 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government. In 2006, the quality supervision and inspection departments at various levels made 900,000 inspections of food producing and processing enterprises.
6. Stepping up Supervision of the Food Circulation Sector
The "Three Green Projects" have been vigorously promoted in China, advocating "green consumption, green markets and green channels." The government encourages modern modes of organization and management for circulation, positively supports the development of chain management and logistics provision; urges marketing enterprises to examine materials before accepting them, check business licenses, require invoices for purchases, keep accounts of transactions and honor their undertakings for food quality, as well as promotes market managers' food quality responsibility system; implements market inspection system in an all-around way; improves the food quality monitoring system, and strictly implements the system that substandard food must be withdrawn from the market and destroyed and made known to the public; strengthens administration over butchering of livestock and fowls, breaks down regional barriers and encourages the nationwide circulation of high-quality foodstuffs with good credit standing and prestigious brand names; improves food processing, circulation and service systems in communities; strengthens the management of the use of genuine food safety labels and standard packaging, and concentrates efforts to crack down on printing of fake packaging, labels and trademarks.
7. Intensifying Supervision of Food Safety in Catering Industry
Hygiene in the catering industry is vital for food safety. In this regard, the Chinese government has primarily done the following: One, it has intensified supervision on hygiene in the catering industry, promulgated and put into effect the Hygienic Standards for the Catering Industry and Group Food Service Providers, adopted a quantified and classified supervisory system for food hygiene management, and strengthened supervision on each link of the catering industry. Two, it has urged the catering industry and canteens to implement the quantified and classified supervisory system for food hygiene management in an all-around way, improved and strengthened monitoring of food contamination and building of a monitoring system on diseases caused by contaminated food. Three, it has intensified crackdown on activities in violation of food safety law, investigated and dealt with serious cases and timely made them known to the public. In 2006, the health departments inspected 2.04 million catering entities of various types and school canteens, dealt with 45,000 cases of illegal food processing and sale and closed down 25,000 food processors and sellers that had been operating without hygiene permits. Four, it has strengthened efforts on hygienic work in schools, directed and carried out special inspections on food and drinking water hygiene, and prevention and treatment of contagious diseases in schools all over the country, as well as prevention of food poisoning and the spread of communicable intestinal diseases. Five, it has conducted food-related jeopardy assessment and issued early warnings for food safety problems on a scientific basis and provided food assessment information.
8. Carrying out Rectification in Respect of Food Quality and Safety in an All-around Way
In order to crack down on the spread of counterfeit and shoddy foodstuffs in certain regions, special comprehensive rectification campaigns were launched in these regions for food quality and safety. The Chinese government has conducted a special project involving hundreds of regions, thousands of townships and tens of thousands of food producers and processors. Targeting key regions, food processing venues and households and their products, the project has resolved the regional problem of producing and selling fake and inferior goods by establishing a food safety monitoring network, stepping up efforts in building up the technological forces such as standardization and monitoring technology, improving technical services for enterprises, promoting the setting up of food industry associations, and intensifying law enforcement and making more stringent efforts to crack down on the production and sale of counterfeit and faulty food. Meanwhile, the departments of industry and commerce as well as quality supervision and inspection keep intensifying law enforcement and, with focus on food quality and safety, direct and conduct special law enforcement actions against activities in producing and processing counterfeit food-related items at the source, strictly crack down on illegal activities such as production of food with non-food materials and misuse of additives in food, as well as food producers with neither a business license nor food-processing permit. In 2006, the quality supervision and inspection departments handled 49,000 illegal operations in this field, confiscating counterfeit and shoddy foodstuffs worth 450 million yuan. In the same year, the departments of industry and commerce sent 5.6 million person/times for law enforcement and inspected 16,000 key food markets and 10.4 million food operating business/times, closed down 151,800 unlicensed businesses, revoked 4,629 business licenses, investigated and dealt with 68,000 cases of production and sale of counterfeit and shoddy food, of which 48 cases were referred to the relevant judicial organs, and ordered 15,500 tons of substandard foodstuffs off the market.
The Chinese government has established a nationwide quick risk warning and responding system in respect of food safety, actively conducted risk monitoring and control in food production, processing, circulation and consumption, and preliminarily realized the early discovery, early warning, early control and early treatment of food-safety problems through efficient collection and analysis of information on food safety. It has also established a rapid and efficient response mechanism covering the collection and analysis of risk-related information, issuing warnings and rapid responses so that it is possible to provide prompt reports, take swift action, make accurate judgment and mete out appropriate measures.
This system comprises two aspects: active recall and instructed recall. The system stipulates that it is the responsibility of food producing and processing enterprises to recall their products if necessary, requires that food producers should instantly put a halt to the production and selling of their products if they suspect any safety risk in their food products, and take the initiative to recall such food products. Producers who purposely conceal food hazards or do not perform their recall obligations, or whose faulty production has extended such hazards or made them recur, will be instructed to recall their products. In recent years, in conducting food sample surveys and law enforcement, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine has become more stringent in demanding food recall when major food-safety hazards, such as pathogenic bacteria, chemical pollutant or non-food materials, are found in food products. Toward those food producing enterprises causing serious consequences, the Administration has revoked their licenses, thus reducing hazards that might be caused by unsafe food and safeguarding the health and safety of consumers.
11. Improving the Food Safety Credit System
The Chinese government pays great attention to the construction of the credit system for food safety, and has set up the preliminary credit records for food-producing enterprises, as well as a system to publicize the honor rolls and blacklists of food producers and processors. Meanwhile, the functions of chambers of commerce and trade associations have been brought into full play to promote self-discipline in the food industry. By giving backing to excellent and competent enterprises, the government supports and helps good and strong enterprises by legislative, administrative and economic means to create an honest environment for food safety, and to enhance people's awareness of honesty in this regard. It has made great efforts in gradual improvement of this mechanism for food safety, and given full scope to its role in regulating, guiding and supervising food safety. It has built up files of credit records of food safety and promoted classified credit monitoring in the food industry. Emphasis is laid on the establishment of a registration and information system and a classified database of credit records of food producers and sellers, which collects information on food producers' and sellers' market access, food-safety control, and consumers' complaints and reports, to ensure an effective control based on adequate information. In recent years, the latest network technology has been used for this purpose, so that consumers may timely, easily, quickly and effectively distinguish counterfeits from genuine ones, which greatly helps safeguard consumers' interests, discourages the production and sale of fake foodstuffs and promotes honesty among enterprises in this industry.
Over the years, the continuous growth of the food industry in terms of variety and quantity as well as the improvement of quality have helped satisfy the people's ever-increasing consumption demands, raised their living standard and promoted national economic development. However, the Chinese government is well aware that there are still problems with food safety, owing to the country's limited socio-economic development. In the days to come, penalties will be focused on those who produce shoddy products or products containing inferior materials or impurities, palm off counterfeits as genuine ones, process foodstuff with non-food or moldy materials, produce foodstuff in disregard of required standards and misuse additives in foodstuff, so as to continuously guarantee food safety and quality.