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Thorough Food Check System Urged in China

China's top legislators have urged the government to build a comprehensive cross-agency food surveillance system to ensure product quality.

Slack management among government institutions in turn led to the negligence of dairy brokers, who added the toxic chemicals to raw milk and sickened infants nationwide, legislators acknowledged on Sunday.

They made the remarks when discussing the third draft of the food safety bill at an ongoing session of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing on the weekend.

"The law aims to control the entire food production procedure, but the next big question is how," Li Lianning, vice secretary-general of the country's top legislature, said.

"It is crucial to have a mechanism where agencies share clear responsibilities and cooperate closely."

Zheng Shenxia, an NPC Standing Committee member, suggested a food safety commission be set up at various levels of government.

An independent party will likely solve overlapping between agencies, he said.

In a report on China's food safety published last week, the United Nations also warned that overlapping responsibilities between a half dozen government agencies caused confusion and suggested China form a unified regulatory agency as "a single source of information".

But other legislators believe it is more feasible to share responsibilities among agencies.

Yang Bangjie, another NPC Standing Committee member and an agricultural researcher, suggested the health department lead the checks and devise food safety codes.

Yin Chengjie, former vice minister of agriculture, told China Daily that a surveillance system needs both a unified leader and the teamwork of relevant agencies.

"Many of the safety concerns of manufactured food originate from what is primarily grown from the fields, especially when we have an epidemic among animals or contamination among crops or vegetables," Yin explained on the sidelines of the meeting.

"So the safety of farm products needs advice from specialists familiar with both government policies and food safety knowledge," he said.

He said the current law on agricultural product safety had been successful since taking effect in November 2006.

The law stipulates that the agricultural ministry should draw up safety standards, with local governments responsible for implementation.

Yin attributed clear divisions of responsibility among government levels as the main reason for good implementation so far.

The draft of the food safety law will likely be revised after its third review during the legislative session, which ends today.

The bill is due to be passed in the next session in December.

(China Daily October 28, 2008)

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