China's new Food Safety Law is now in effect. Essentially, it sets up a recall system, while scrapping an earlier system that allows some larger companies to be exempt from inspection. Heavier penalties are also in line for people who break the law.
The Food Safety Law is the result of a three-year drafting process. The law requires the unification of food safety standards and creation of a national monitoring and evaluation system. It will also impose heavier punishment on illegal behavior, grant consumers the right to claim compensation that can go as high as ten times the product price. According to the law, the State Council will set up a special committee to coordinate and instruct different ministries on their responsibilities.
Xin Chunying, Director General of Legislative Affiars Com., NPC Standing Committee, said, "It will bring a new stage in the food security area. Before this law, we had the food sanitary law...But this new law targets many new issues and new problems. And we now have a new framework and we're trying to connect all the different departments to perfect the law."
The law is being well received by Greenpeace. Its food safety project in China mainly targets pesticide and fertilizer residues on farm produce.
Luo Yuannan, campaigner of Greenpeace, said, "Greenpeace welcomes the implementation of this food safety law. We believe this law will definitely help improve China's food safety situation. Of course, there is still some room of improvement. For example, Greenpeace would like to see more policies and regulations targeting the root cause of our food problems. Take pesticides as an example. If the government only rely on downstream control, it's not going to work."
Restoring consumer confidence is not going to be easy. The recent melamine tainted milk powder scandal has resulted in a crisis in trust between some of the country's biggest dairy producers and their customers.
A consumer said, "I don't feel reassured when buying food products. My choice is to shop at big shopping mall and buy branded products."
A consumer said, "I think the current supervision is not strict enough. We do not feel reassured about the safety of the food we buy."
Consumers say what will make a real difference is the strict and effective implementation of the law.
Food safety incidents are the result of manufacturers' disregard for the law as well as inadequate supervision. Experts say the key of the new law is to establish a powerful and effective legal system. This will increase consumer confidence. And it will also push the development of the food industry while maintaining higher standards of quality.