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January 6, 2011

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Food rules are thin fare for residents

CONFUSED locals say they are none the wiser what foods are safe to eat after reading the city's new food safety regulations.

The rules, published in draft form yesterday, aim to strengthen the management of food preparation areas and mobile street vendors.

But these regulations fail to help ordinary people know what food is safe to eat in the wake of recent food safety scandals, it is claimed.

Last month there were reports of hotpot restaurants adding poppy shells to soup to make it more tasty and addictive. Other recent scares include dyed oranges and sesame seeds and ongoing concerns about "swill oil" - cooking oil extracted from drains and illegally resold.

After reading the draft regulations, Ye Xin, a deputy to the Shanghai People's Congress - the local legislative body - said he still has no idea what food he can safely eat.

And Mao Wenpei, a local lawmaker, agreed, pointing out that the draft did not make clear which department has main responsibility for food safety issues.

This is confusing for residents attempting to report food safety problems, said Mao.

Currently, several government departments, including the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration, the Shanghai Quality and Technical Supervision Bureau, and the Shanghai Industry and Commerce Administration are involved in food safety management.

Local lawmaker Zhu Yanwen acknowledged that it was vital to regulate individual food preparation centers and mobile street vendors.

But when these have problems with hygiene or illegal additives, a limited number of people are affected, Zhu added.

The regulations should also contain clauses addressing supervision of dairy and livestock industries, said Zhu, as their practices impact on a huge number of people.

"It will lead to disastrous consequences and many people will be affected if these products are contaminated during the production process," said Zhu.

The regulations, which are expected to take effect late this year, allow street vendors to sell food under local government guidance.

Wang Zhong, a deputy to the Shanghai congress, suggested that Shanghai can learn from Taiwan's night markets where many food stalls are concentrated and the quality is good.

"If we can set up markets like that, they might become new tourist attractions," said Wang.

The city's draft regulations were prompted by China's Food Safety Law, which came into effect in 2009.

The city aims to improve supervision of street vendors and food preparation areas.

Shanghai has more than 10,000 mobile food stalls, but few can meet requirements for an eatery license.

Last year, the city reported 10 food poisoning outbreaks, with 298 people involved.


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