UN Report On China’s Infrastructure for Food Safety

Thursday, October 30, 2008 6:06

Following my post last week, the UN released the 30 page report Advancing Food Safety in China. PDF Here

Primarily written in response to, and as a study of, the recent milk contamination cases, this paper is an excellent guide for those who are looking to understand more about the regulatory environment, the agencies, and the processes that monitor food quality and addresses problems that arise.

With the highline being: China has made a lot of progress over the last 5 years, but it still has a long way to go, the authors have taken a very logical approach:

  1. What is the importance of having a strong regime in place
  2. What are the characteristics of a robust regime
  3. Where is China now
  4. What should China do to improve and bring itself inline with international norms

For me, the first two pieces were the most interesting as (1) I know what the current system is and (2) if you know the first 3, you can work out the 4th.

for me, the only real surprise was seeing that less than 1% of exported food was found to be substandard, whereas that number jumped to 15% locally. Errors in statistics aside, this is a stunning difference and I would further be interested in knowing what the rates look like in terms of 1st tier, 2nd tier, and others…. my gut feeling is that Shanghai and Beijing are 95%+, where on the farm is a whole other story.

In the end, the following recommendations were made:

  • A legal framework developed in a coordinated manner that is consistent nationwide;
  • A coordinated and unambiguous food control management system;
  • A food safety standards system that is risk-based and in harmony with international standards, i.e. Codex Alimentarius;
  • A unified, authoritative and efficient food safety testing and inspecting system;
  • A uniform and standardized food certification and qualification system;
  • An effective food safety emergency response system;
  • An improved food traceability system;
  • An enhanced information service system that has links with the media to ensure the media and consumers can have confidence in the safety of the food in China;
  • An effective programme of education and training in food safety;
  • An efficient foodborne disease surveillance system covering the entire country;
  • A well-designed national food contaminants monitoring system
  • A strengthened programme of international communication and cooperation; and
  • Greater emphasis on public-private partnership.

Before they get started on that list, I would also suggest a couple:

  • Develop a third party review system that is independent, unbiase, and believed to be credible by consumers, industry, and government alike
  • Foster and develop relationships with locally based non-profit groups and consumer rights groups.
  • Improve education on the farm and invest in agricultural reform
  • Remove the barriers to cold chain investment
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