Monday, March 2, 2009
Good Effort, But is it Enough?
The National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress are starting this week.
And one of their major achievements so far is passing the food safety law earlier this weekend. It finally answers concerns of the public especially after last year's tainted milk scandal, but there are still many loopholes.
Five years in the making, the law encompasses a number of aspects of food quality and supervision over China's 450,000 food producers.
One of the key elements of the new law is that no additives are allowed to be added to food unless proven both necessary and safe.
But how can government departments make sure every container of milk is melamine free without objectively testing it themselves or inspecting the factories and milk collection points everyday?
While a company could prove that a certain additive is necessary, the food producer could substitute it with something else in the actual production process.
It's a huge challenge to watch, especially when of the 450,000 companies that produce food products, 350,000 of them are small ones with 10 or less employees.
The new law also says if offenders know they are selling sub-standard food, they have to compensate the consumer 10 times the price of the product. So if something costs 5 RMB... and someone gets really sick, they'll only get 50RMB back? That hardly covers the cost of seeing the doctor, let alone the medicine.
A State-level food safety commission will also be set up to avoid a bog down in bureaucracy, as currently some 10 government departments are involved in food safety, causing lax supervision or lack of consensus on issues.
Finally, the law stipulates that celebrities will be held legally responsible for the food products they endorse.
They must shoulder "joint liability", which means if the food product is considered unsafe, consumers will have the right to demand compensation from the company and the celebrity involved.
Looks like no singers, actors or athletes are going to endorse any food products from now on. Who wants to shoulder such a heavy responsibility?
How were the stars who did advertising for Sanlu to know that melamine was added to the milk?
There goes that lucrative contract.
In the meantime, this will make it more difficult for food producers to promote their products.
Gone are the days of making a fast buck in the food industry.