Local watchdogs empowered in food safety shake-up
                 English.news.cn | 2014-01-26 17:14:10 | Editor: Zhu Ningzhu

SHANGHAI, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- Chinese provincial governments are quickly empowering local food safety watchdogs in line with the requirements of the central government to prevent food scandals.

Since the China Food and Drug Administration was launched during the cabinet restructuring of last March to supervise the full process of food production, circulation and consumption, a primary mission of provincial governments has been to correspondingly restructure their food safety monitoring mechanism.

During the reshuffle, the functions of quality inspection departments are intensified as they gain food safety jurisdiction previously held by health as well as industry and commerce departments.

To make sure the reshuffle runs smoothly and efficiently, the China Food and Drug Administration has sent out work teams to various provinces.

While inspecting the work in central China's Hunan Province in mid-January, Liu Peizhi, vice minister of the administration, urged provincial governments to complete the reshuffle as quickly as possible on the premise that the restructured outfits could have sufficient resources to fulfill the mission of the administration.

The administration is yet to announce the progress of the nationwide restructuring.

However, Li Hongyuan, director of the food and drug administration of Xiamen City in east China's Fujian Province, was quoted by the Xiamen Daily as saying that more than two-thirds of 31 provincial regions in the Chinese mainland have completed relevant restructuring so far.

Yan Zuqiang, chief of the Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration, said that one goal of the restructuring was to increase the number of grassroots inspectors.

Describing the human resources structure of the old monitoring mechanism as "olive-shaped," with the higher management on the top and grassroots inspectors on the bottom largely outnumbered by middle management, Yan said that law enforcement at the grassroots level has been very weak.

After the restructuring, he said, the number of local grassroots inspectors in Shanghai had risen to 1,700, representing the bulk of the city bureau's staff.

Food safety has become a top concern in China as a string of safety scandals, particularly the one in 2008 when melamine-tainted baby formula caused the deaths of at least six infants and sickened 300,000 others, have crippled customer confidence.

Shanghai municipal legislator Xu Liping agreed that the weakness of food safety supervision was at the grassroots.

"The number of inspectors cannot be increased infinitely. The key is to improve their competency and work style," said Xu.

Zhao Renrong, deputy to the Shanghai People's Congress, the city's legislature, proposed that a nationwide blacklisting system be established based on the credit records of food business managers.

"Without such a system, a business owner who breaks the law can easily run away from his problems by reopening another shop under the name of his relative," said Zhao, also chief of the Tingdong Village Branch of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai's Jinshan District.

Although many places including Shanghai have started to experiment with blacklisting lawbreakers, Liu Zhengguo, director of the enterprise credit management committee of the metropolis, said that a nationwide credit system was badly needed to prevent lawbreakers continuing their malpractice elsewhere in the country.

"We must ensure no Chinese can afford to have a bad record in terms of food safety in this country," he said.

Liu Boying, director of the Commission of Commerce in Hongkou District in Shanghai, suggested that digital technologies should be widely used to strengthen certification of products' origins.

For instance, consumers should be able to learn the exact breeding information of aquatic products by scanning the label, said Liu, adding that the biggest challenge was how to raise the enthusiasm of enterprises with certifications of origin.

To solve the problem, Shanghai has started legislation on compulsory certification of the origin of foodstuff, which may cover pork, vegetables, aquatic products, grain crops, dairy and cooking oil, according to the municipality's food safety supervision chief Yan Zuqiang.

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