In the wake of a series of scandals—most recently, mercury discovered in baby formula—China has released a new five-year plan to upgrade its food safety system. Despite its more than 2,000 national regulations on food safety, a government-issued release concedes that China “is still suffering from the absence of several major food safety regulations.” Many of the existing regulations are overlapping, contradictory, or outdated.
The national Ministry of Health is the lead agency for the project, which is supposed to be completed by 2015, with a review and plan due by the end of 2013. Much like the U.S., China has a large number of agencies—14—that bear some responsibility for food safety.
“The government will prioritize safety standards for dairy products, infant food, meat, alcohol, vegetable oil, seasoning, health products and food additives so as to specify limits for dangerous ingredients in these foods,” said a statement on the official Chinese web portal. “Moreover, the government will make special efforts to set standards for testing various contaminants, food additives, microorganisms, pesticide and animal drug residue in food production by 2015, according to the plan.”
“It would appear that the food regulatory agencies are actually going to play a minor role; they’re there to primarily provide inspection data,” said Robert Buchanan, PhD, director of the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems at the University of Maryland in College Park, who reviewed a rough translation of the document posted on the Ministry of Health’s website.
“It’s unclear, based on the document, whether they will devote new money to food safety or change the structure that they’re currently employing,” Dr. Buchanan noted. “The document generates more questions than answers, but it does appear that the real focus is on developing rationalized standards that are more based on public health and risk than they have been in the past, and to get rid of a lot of the redundancy or conflicts. They have a lot of work to do.”