Three years ago, China was rocked by food safety concerns when the powdered milk that parents were feeding their infants was found to be 1)laced with 2)melamine, an industrial chemical. Scores of babies were sickened, with some even dying. And from that 3)tainted milk to the latest tainted pork—also known as “lean meat powder”—food safety issues never fail to stir fear and anger. Domestic worries have attracted global attention and questions—especially since China is the largest exporter of food products in the world. The public can't help but wonder: what's wrong with the food? And most importantly, what's wrong with the food safety system regulating the whole industry?
For centuries Chinese farmers have been intensely cultivating their small 4)plots, leaving much of China's scarce 5)arable land 6)depleted. Nevertheless, for the past twenty years agricultural production has grown in China due to an extremely high use of fertilizers and 7)pesticides on crops and drugs in 8)animal husbandry. Thus, it is not surprising that Chinese agricultural products are 9)fraught with many drug and fertilizer 10)residue problems. What's more, it has been estimated that 40 percent of all pesticides in China are 11)counterfeit, further 12)compounding the problem of over-application with doubts surrounding 13)authenticity and actual content. What's to be done?
First, let's take a look at how a successful food safety regulation structure works. The European Union and Japan are who other countries should 14)look up to. A successful food safety regulation structure must include the active collaboration of the government, food safety technology leaders, and the food industry. An effective food safety system must be comprehensive, for relying solely on testing imports is 15)reactive and potentially expensive if done in isolation. Conversely, simply depending on a third party or exporting country to test is risky and requires monitoring to ensure tests are done well. Ideally, food safety regulations would be internationally harmonized; however, that has not yet happened. Among exporting countries it has long been considered that the EU has the most 16)stringent legislation.
The European Union. The strengths that distinguish the EU's food regulatory system are: (1) the regulating body—the European Food Safety Authority—an independent, scientific point of reference for risk analysis, ensuring that food safety regulations are based on science; (2) a comprehensive system for 17)traceability of foods; (3) a rapid alert system for food and 18)feed to 19)disseminate information on risks within the European Community; and (4) a requirement that food imported from third countries are produced and tested with the same 20)diligence as domestic produce.
The Japanese System. The strengths of the Japanese system are: (1) compliance to Japan's food safety standards is ensured through a very high level (>10 percent) of laboratory testing for imports; (2) the 21)onus is placed on importers to prove the safety of their products by having them tested before import is allowed into Japan. One of the more demanding aspects of the Japanese food inspection regulations is the large list of 22)substances that importers must test.
Both of these systems are successful, for a number of reasons. The Food and 23)Veterinary Office of the EU Commission has the authority to inspect the facilities of importers and ensure traceability so that individual facilities can be checked for compliance. Besides certifying third country establishments to export certain foodstuffs, the inspections by the EU's Food and Veterinary Office also provide countries with recommendations to improve their testing of food exports. Whilst Japan does not maintain approved lists, Japan will dispatch government experts to exporting countries when problems are identified. Both Japan and the EU provide a public list of food safety violations; however, the Japanese list is only posted quarterly, rather than on a 24)rolling basis like the EU. Both the EU and Japan are quick to require considerably more testing or completely ban products after multiple violations. Unlike Japan, the EU food regulatory system does not prescribe analytical techniques for testing. This is seen as a significant strength, which allows European laboratories to improve efficiency through the adoption of new technologies as they are introduced by the technology suppliers.
Another model to look at is the American system. The US food safety system is highly dependent on voluntary industry participation, which is motivated by the need to ensure consumer confidence. Food is also kept safe by strong consumer safety laws, and independent legal system, free media, and civil society organizations. But China lacks many of these institutions, most notably a strong self-regulating 25)private sector, due in great part to such industries being protected by local governments that own them. For China's food market to move forward on both an international and domestic scale, a successful food safety regulation structure will need to be developed and standardized. Thus, Chinese regulators must design a food safety system of their own. Not just for export, but for themselves.