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China Focus: Food safety top concern in China

BEIJING, June 18 (Xinhua) -- In China, where food safety scandals are commonplace, the public have to be extra careful before every bite.

Reports of meat injected with steroids and unhealthy animals butchered for consumption give new weight to the phrases "beef up" and "sick as a pig".

There have been reports of problems from every link in the production chain. Even agricultural produce, it seems, is not safe. A huge batch of bean sprouts was seized after they were found to contain worrying amounts of controlled chemicals.

Last July, Shanghai Husi Food Co. Ltd, a supplier to leading fast food brands including McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut, were discovered using expired meat in their products. Six of the company's senior executives were arrested.

The revised Food Safety Law comes into effect on Oct. 1, and brings harsher punishment for the adulteration of food intended for our plates.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

An annual China Youth Daily survey in March found that food safety was the public's top concern. In response to a list of "quality of life" issues including housing and the environment, 77.3 percent of respondents said food safety mattered most to them. The new law should rebuild confidence in the domestic food industry.

Those found to have added substances unfit for human consumption to food could be jailed for up to 15 days, and producers may face fines of up to 30 times the value of their products.

The amendment includes provisions for landlords and suppliers found to be complicit, at any stage of the production chain, in the adulteration of food.

Should officials with food and drug regulators, or health and agriculture departments, be found negligent or involved in concealment, they will face administrative penalties, such as demotion or dismissal.

Infant milk formula will be heavily regulated after six babies died and thousands fell ill due to melamine-contaminated formula in 2008.

Producers will now have to run tests on their products, conduct regular inspections and submit reports to regulatory bodies.

"ZERO TOLERANCE" OF FOOD SAFETY CRIME

Earlier this month, Premier Li Keqiang lauded the revamped Food Safety Law and its "zero tolerance" stance.

He advised that a tracking system, which would record and monitor the whole food production process, should be established.

Zhang Gaoli, a vice premier and head of a ministerial food safety committee under the State Council, called for strict supervision of food manufacturers and distributors.

Wang Yang, another vice premier, concurred with his colleague and stressed the importance of risk management. He also reminded local governments that they must assume responsibility for food quality.

The State Administration for Industry and Commerce has started to draw up a black list of firms, as a stepping stone toward a system to monitor corporate conduct.

An administration official said last June that better records detailing the food companies' conduct would be kept, and they would be made available to the public to ensure an environment of honesty.

During Food Safety Week, which started on Monday, President Xi Jinping visited the province of Guizhou in southwest China, and he took the opportunity to call at shops and food stalls. While at a small supermarket, between the provincial capital of Guiyang and Zunyi City, he inspected snacks on sale and was happy to find that they were all well within their expiration dates.

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