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China: En Route to Better Food Safety

In overseas market, a growing list of substandard exports from China since March, ranging from pet foods to drugs, toothpastes, toys, aquatic products and tyres, has sparked wide concern about "Made in China" labels.

Medicine contaminated with diethylene glycol imported from China was blamed for the dozens of deaths in Panama, and deaths of dogs and cats in North America were attributed to tainted Chinese wheat gluten.

When it comes to public food safety, ordinary Chinese are not well- informed, and have to rely on government administrations. Jing Luyan, 24, who works in a Beijing-based travel agency, said she trusts the government and the media for information on food safety issues.

"If they say I shouldn't eat something, then I stop immediately, simple as that," she said, adding many of her colleagues and friends do the same.

Pressure from home and abroad first prompted the Chinese government to acknowledge that the country's food and drug safety situation is unsatisfactory and enhanced supervision is needed.

At a press conference held in July, China's food and drug watchdog spokeswoman Yan Jiangying said "As a developing country, China's food and drug supervision work began late and its foundations are weak. Therefore, the food and drug safety situation is not something we can be optimistic about".

The press conference was jointly held by five major ministries in charge of food safety, namely the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), the Ministry of Health (MOH), the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), and the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA).

It was a rare attempt made by the Chinese government to seriously address the issue, and a series of measures to be taken were enumerated at the conference.

However, it failed to offer a convincing mechanism for coordinating work among the five ministries, leaving the murky regulation of food safety unresolved.

There have been worries about China's supervision over food safety, as at least five ministries were put in charge of food safety issues and coordination among them was no easy job.

Vice Health Minister Wang Longde said earlier new laws were needed to strengthen food safety supervision by coordinating the duties of relevant government agencies.

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