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Saturday, February 28, 2009

China to set up powerful food safety commission

From: International Herald Tribune

BEIJING: China's legislature is considering a new food safety law that would create a powerful commission to oversee food regulation and make celebrities liable for any dangerous products they endorse, state media reported Thursday.

China's government has been trying to restore confidence in the country's food system since the disclosure in September that infant formula was contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine. The tainted milk is blamed in the deaths of at least six Chinese babies and the sickening of nearly 300,000 others.

The food safety bill, expected to pass this weekend, would create a "high-level coordination and guidance" body, the China Daily newspaper said.

It said food regulation procedures would be streamlined by cutting the number of agencies involved by more than half.

Consumers would be able to demand compensation for dangerous food products from both the producers and from celebrities or organizations that advertise them, the newspaper said, citing a professor of law at Renmin University, Yang Lixin.

Celebrities, especially athletes, frequently endorse food and drink products in China.

The deputy director of the National People's Congress Law Committee, Liu Xirong, said the change was in response to complaints from legislators about false or exaggerated food advertisements featuring celebrities, the newspaper said.

China's current system of splitting food safety responsibilities among many different agencies has resulted in uneven enforcement and confusion, the United Nations said in a report late last year.

The new food safety commission will oversee several agencies, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and the State Food and Drug Administration, the newspaper said.

Details of the commission's responsibilities and authority will be decided by China's cabinet, the State Council, it said.

The Ministry of Health will take primary responsibility in setting standards, investigating accidents and releasing information, it said.

The food safety law is to replace China's food hygiene law, which was passed in 1995.

It is expected to improve inspections of imports and exports, and set up a risk assessment and recall system for food. State media also said it could punish makers of dangerous food products with up to life imprisonment.

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