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State Council to ensure safer food

CHINA'S State Council, or Cabinet, is to set up a food safety commission to strengthen the country's food monitoring system.

The decision was written into a draft law on food safety submitted to the National People's Congress Standing Committee, China's top legislature, yesterday and is likely to be adopted after a fourth reading.

China's current food safety system involves at least five departments ?? health, agriculture, quality supervision, industry and commerce administration and food and drug supervision.

The departments shoulder different responsibilities for food safety. For example, quality supervision administration monitors food production. But when foods leave the factories, they are monitored by the industry and commerce administration.

Liu Xirong, vice chairman of the NPC Law Committee, said even though the draft clearly defined the responsibilities of the departments, law makers still believed that one organization was needed to supervise and coordinate the work of those departments.

"After serious study of the suggestion, the State Council decided to set up a food safety commission as a high-level coordinating organization," Liu said.

However, the draft, which would be effective from June 1 once it was adopted, does not say what responsibilities the food safety commission would have. "Its function should be stipulated by the State Council," the draft says.

The draft has been revised several times since it was submitted to the NPC Standing Committee for a first reading in December 2007. In April 2008, it was opened to public scrutiny and more than 11,000 submissions were made to the lawmaking body.

The draft had been expected to be adopted last October, but the voting was postponed following the tainted dairy products scandal in September.

"The tainted dairy scandal exposed loopholes in the food safety monitoring network, the failure of the pre-warning, reporting, inspection systems," a member of the committee, who declined to be named, said.

Key revisions were made following the scandal. "Many focused on the monitoring system, which is also the most difficult part of the draft," he said.

Other revisions included a ban on all chemicals and materials other than authorized additives in food production.

The draft stipulates that "only those items proved to be safe and necessary in food production are allowed to be listed as food additives." Food producers must strictly stick to the food additives and their usage previously approved by authorities, on penalty of closure or revocation of production licenses, according to the draft.


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