2009-03-05 / Local & State

China Passes Food Safety Law

By Christopher Bodeen ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

BEIJING (AP) - China's legislature enacted a tough new food safety law Saturday, promising tougher penalties for makers of tainted products in the wake of scandals that exposed serious flaws in monitoring of the nation's food supply.

Five years in the making, the law consolidates hundreds of disparate regulations and standards covering China's 500,000 food processing companies, said Xin Chunying, a vice chairman of the legislative committee of the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

The law pays special attention to the issue of food additives that lay at the heart of last year's scandal involving infant formula produced by the Sanlu dairy and other companies. No additives will be allowed unless they can be proven both necessary and safe, according to the law, which goes into effect June 1.

China's government has been trying to restore confidence in the country's food supply ever since revelations in September that formula was contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine. The tainted milk is blamed in the deaths of at least six Chinese babies and the sickening of nearly 300,000 others.

Previously, China's regulatory system had come under scrutiny after exports of pet food ingredients killed and sickened pets in North and South America. The chemical in the dangerous pet food was the same as in the milk scandal - melamine.

In response to those scandals, a draft of the food safety law was submitted for its first reading by China's legislature in December 2007.

The law also calls for a monitoring and supervision system, a set of national standards on food safety, severe punishment for offenders, and a food recall system. It will also create a "high-level coordination and guidance'' body, Xin said, streamlining food regulation procedures by cutting the number of agencies involved by more than half.

China's current system of splitting food safety responsibilities among many different agencies has resulted in uneven enforcement and confusion, the U.N. said in a report late last year.

Toughened penalties under the law include fines, cancellation of licenses and punitive damages up to 10 times the value of products implicated. Companies and individuals can also be held liable for medical and other compensation as well as face criminals charges.

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