The new product identification and tracking system, which has been in the spotlight recently over concerns it may raise production costs, has been written into the draft food safety law, a senior quality control official said on Tuesday.
The system has become part of the draft food safety law and will become a legal obligation for all food companies if it is passed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), Pu Changcheng, deputy director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), said at a working conference in Beijing.
"The system, which allocates a unique code to every product, is another major step forward in ensuring quality," he said.
"It allows every stage of a product's production and distribution cycle to be tracked.
"Consumers can also get information about the products they buy via the Internet or by calling 114," he said.
The AQSIQ, Ministry of Commerce and State Administration for Industry and Commerce initially said that by the end of June, all products in nine categories, including food, cosmetics and home appliances, must carry a code or they will not be allowed to be sold.
The deadline was later extended to the end of the year.
Food companies, however, have argued the system will increase their production costs. More than 20 firms, including Nestle, Mars, Coca-Cola and Pepsico, have submitted a joint petition against the system to the legislative affairs commission of the NPC Standing Committee and State Council Legislative Affairs Office.
The system will require new equipment to be purchased, will slow production, and changes will have to be made to packaging and design, the firms said in the petition.
In a report submitted to the AQSIQ, the China National Food Industry Association said all 40 of the food companies it surveyed last month said the system will raise their production costs, and 31 said it will lead to price rises of up to 15 percent.
Some firms also said the codes were difficult to print on some packaging materials.
"More importantly, the system is of little use in ensuring product safety, as it doesn't deal with the quality of raw materials," Li Yu, scientific and regulatory affairs director of Mars China, said.
"Also, the system doesn't apply to small food plants, and they have the most problems," he said.
In response, Song Mingchang, director of the system's promotion office, said the administration will work with food companies to iron out problems as they arise.
The AQSIQ has extended the deadline for the introduction of the codes, but the system is highly necessary, he said.
(China Daily April 9, 2008)