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Committee to evaluate food safety
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The draft food safety law submitted to China's top legislature for first review yesterday proposes the establishment of a State-level food safety risk evaluation committee.

The committee would be composed of experts from relevant fields, including health and agriculture, and be responsible for assessing certain food or food material risk if the draft were approved.

The evaluation results, the draft says, shall provide a "key basis" for constituting food safety standards and policies such as food-borne disease control measures.

Standard-setting authorities would in turn be required to make timely updates or draft food safety standards based on the assessments.

Information departments should also publish food safety warnings if the evaluation suggests a certain food is potentially dangerous, according to the draft.

While explaining the draft law to the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, Cao Kangtai, head of the State Council Legislative Affairs Office, said that the lack of scientific and coherent food safety standards had become a major problem in China's food management

"But it's impossible to develop scientific standards without scientific evaluation and figures," he said.

Chen Junshi, a senior researcher with the National Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety, said the move marked "a big step forward".

"The establishment of a sound food safety risk evaluation system has become a common practice in many countries in the world," he said. "We're now catching up."

The draft law, to replace the existing Food Hygiene Law, also proposes a labeling system making food producers responsible for statements about ingredients, additives, expiration dates and functions on user manuals and packages. A recall system and a food safety information release system are also proposed.

In addition, the draft law seeks to impose strict examinations on food imports and exports.

It states "imported food should be in accordance with national standards and labeling system.

Exported food should meet the requirements of destination countries and pass the examination of inspection and quarantine institutions of foreign countries".

However, experts are disappointed that the long-expected draft law overlooks the restructuring of the current food safety supervision mechanism.

Food safety is currently overseen by at least six major government departments, resulting in overlapping responsibility and law enforcement.

However, Chen said reform of the current mechanism was difficult because it affects the interests of some government agencies.

"The draft law doesn't change any of the existing supervision system," he said. "It only stipulates that the State Council has the power to change it in the future," he said.

"We expect the next government, to be in power next March, to make some concrete changes in reforming the system."

(China Daily December 27, 2007)


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