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Survey: Better Food Safety Urged

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Nearly 70 percent of the Chinese public do not feel confident about food safety, a national survey has found.

Insight China, a magazine, and Tsinghua Media Survey Lab conducted the survey, released over the weekend, against the backdrop of the government trying to restore public confidence damaged by a series of food safety incidents. More than half of the respondents said government management and surveillance should be further improved to properly protect people from unsafe food, it said.

Among the 24 kinds of food - including vegetables, fruit, seafood, cooking oil and water-based products - Chinese consumers were mostly worried about puffed and fried food, according to the survey.

"These products are especially popular with children and I am not sure about their health impacts," said Wang Linhong, mother of a 4-year-old boy in Beijing.

Consumers told the survey they were also concerned about pickled vegetables, fresh meat and meat products, canned food, instant food and dairy products.

The survey found that contaminated meat products, excessive pesticide residue and abuse of food additives topped respondents' lists of the top threats to food safety.

In 2008, baby milk formula contaminated with melamine killed six children and made more than 300,000 ill.

Relatively well-off and resourceful urban parents thereafter flocked to Hong Kong to buy foreign-made milk powder they thought would be safer for their babies.

The central government has taken concrete measures to improve food safety in the country, with more investment and stricter supervision.

Wu Jinsheng, director of the technology department at the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, told China Daily recently that the central government has responded to several incidents by increasing funding to improve county-level quality inspection centers to ensure proper food hygiene over the next five years.

Of the 2,862 county-level quality inspection centers nationwide, only 1,100 are capable of carrying out food-safety tests, Wu said.

With increased government input during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), the number of counties with the capacity to conduct food safety tests may double.

However, more than 42 percent of those polled said current regulation and supervision by food safety watchdogs were far from sufficient.

"Media reports with incorrect information were from time to time conveyed to the public, seriously damaging public confidence in the government's capacity to improve food safety," said Deng Haihua, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, in early November.

Following China's 2009 legislation on food safety, which provides a legal footing for consumer rights, government agencies, including the Ministry of Health and the general administration, took specific measures such as introducing a food safety risk assessment and a warning system to tackle major food safety problems, Deng noted.

The survey found that many people were confused about genetically modified (GM) food, largely due to limited understanding.

Among the respondents, 84 percent said they didn't know much about GM food and its potential health effects while about 66 percent said they preferred to buy non-GM food.

But GM food was not listed as a major issue now challenging food safety in China.

(China Daily January 4, 2011)

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