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China Establishes 5-Year Food Safety Plan, Vows Harsher Penalties

BEIJING—China on June 15 released a 5-year plan to upgrade its food-safety regulations as part of the country's latest efforts to address critical food-safety concerns. The announcement came at the conclusion of China’s Food Safety Week.

As outlined by the plan, the government will improve national food-safety standards by revamping outdated standards, reviewing and abolishing any contradicting or overlapping standards and working out new regulations. Currently, China has more than 2,000 national food regulations and more than 2,900 industry-based regulations—many of which are overlapping or contradict each other, since multiple government agencies were given the responsibility of compiling their own standards years ago.

According to the plan, 14 government departments, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture, will coordinate to finish revamping the existing standards by 2015.

The government will prioritize safety standards for dairy products, infant food, meat, alcohol, vegetable oil, seasoning, health products and food additives so as to specify limits for dangerous ingredients in these foods. The government also will make special efforts to set standards for testing various contaminants, food additives, microorganisms, pesticide and animal drug residue in food production by 2015.

On June 13, the State Council, China's Cabinet, laid out measures to improve food safety, including tighter supervision and harsh punishments for violators. According to a government statement, “the government should enhance supervision by setting up an efficient mechanism that covers all links in the food industry and a rigid food recall and destroy system for defective products. The State Council vowed a "harsh crackdown" on those endangering food safety, saying violators should be ensured penalties in accordance with laws and regulations.

Ironically, another food-safety scandal involving tainted infant formula is casting a shadow on any positive developments that took place during China’s Food Safety Week. Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, one of China's largest dairy product manufacturers, is recalling infant formula because of excessive levels of mercury.

The recall involves all formula milk powder for infants in the Quanyou 2, 3 and 4 brand series produced from November 2011 to May 2012. The recall was initiated by the company after batch samples  were tested with abnormal mercury content on June 12 by food-safety inspectors, reported China Daily.

The company issued a statement that said, "At present, the country has no standards on mercury limits in milk powder. But to be responsible to consumers, the company decided to recall all related products."

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