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China Approves Food Safety Law as Supplement to Existing Statute

In the wake of headline food scandals, China's cabinet on Wednesday approved in principle a draft law on food safety to address the "weak points" in food production, processing, delivery, storage and sales.

"Food safety is vital to improving people's lives and health, so relevant legislation must match national efforts of safeguarding food safety," said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

The draft law, based on the existing Food Hygiene Law, was discussed at Wednesday's executive meeting of the State Council, which was presided over by Wen.

The draft law proposed a food safety risk supervision and evaluation mechanism to provide a "key basis" for constituting food safety standards and food born disease control measures. The mechanism demanded a "unified, timely, objective and accurate" disclosure of emergency information.

Related institutional systems covering food production, processing, delivery, storage and sales should be set up to prevent food safety problems, according to the premier.

The government would standardize practices such as food production licensing, inspection and quarantine results recording, product labeling and recalling, said the premier, adding the producer would bear major responsibilities for food safety scandals and be punished more severely.

The draft law says imported food and additives must meet China's national food safety standards while food products exported from China to other countries and regions should satisfy the compulsory requirements set by importers and pass local entry inspection and quarantine.

Local governments have legal obligations to supervise food safety and build fast and convenient aid channels to protect consumers' rights, said the premier.

The draft law will be submitted to the National People's Congress, the country's legislature, for debate and adoption.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Margaret Chan on Wednesday expressed appreciation on China's efforts to crack down on food safety problems.

Chan told Li Changjiang, head of the China's product quality watchdog, that she was "very impressed" with an ongoing nationwide product safety inspection campaign launched in August.

"Food safety is a serious matter not only for the WHO, but for the world as a whole," said Chan, who is in China for an international health forum.

The campaign she mentioned was a four-month overhaul described by Chinese vice premier Wu Yi as a "special battle" to ensure product quality and food safety. It had seen 667 tons of substandard and fake food products destroyed and 446 tons removed from marketplaces by October 8.

The Chinese government has taken a highly responsible attitude towards food safety and strengthened international cooperation in this regard, the State Council heard.

Last week Wu ordered the advancement of a crackdown on products in distribution as well as in production. A total of 626 criminal cases involving the production or sales of substandard food, drugs and farm produce had been filed during the campaign, with 774 suspects brought under control, according to the vice premier.

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Monday issued a joint statement, vowing to strengthen cooperation in food safety, promote food trade and protect consumers' rights and benefits.

(Xinhua News Agency November 1, 2007)

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