China’s new food safety law came into force this week but much uncertainty remains over how it will be implemented.
The law, which replaces the current Food Hygiene Law, took five years to approve and attracted 11,000 public comments in the final stages. It is hoped that a new law will prevent major incidents like last year’s melamine scandal. At least six Chinese infants died and thousands of others fell ill after consuming melamine-tainted milk powder.
The government has set up a high level food safety commission with ministry-level clout to oversee implementation of the law, a move welcomed by one regulatory affairs manager at a multinational food company in Beijing.
“We’re expecting better collaboration between the different ministries,” he told just-food.
Miscommunication and gaps in oversight between the several different government departments had been blamed in the past for China’s poor food safety record.
However, consultancy APCO said the move did not go far enough to streamline responsibilities. Enforcing the new law will also be difficult.
China has an estimated 500,000 food manufacturers. “The production system is too vast to allow for meaningful monitoring of all stages of the production process. Regulators are poorly trained and resourced, while local officials are not appropriately incentivised to promote food safety above growth,” said a recent APCO report.
The regulatory affairs manager added that many of the standards included in the new law have not yet been published creating “uncertainty” for industry.
“We’re waiting for new labelling resolutions. We’re afraid that this leaves food players open to big risks. Different [authorities] in different parts of China will have different understanding of the law. If they challenge us, we don’t know how to react.”