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Pledge to raise food standardsState Council vows big improvements in the next three years after a spate of scandals that has shattered public confidence in the food industryZhuang Pinghui05 July 2012The State Council has vowed to make great strides over the next three years in addressing rampant food-safety problems that plague the mainland.It is the first time the central government has a set a time frame for action to tackle the problem. Scares over scandals ranging from milk adulterated with industrial chemical melamine to pork contaminated with asthma drug clenbuterol have shattered public confidence in the food industry and in the authorities’ ability to tackle such problems.A circular issued by the State Council on Tuesday said it aimed to “make remarkable achievements in food-safety controls, effectively curb criminal acts and solve prominent problems” within around three years. “The overall level of food safety will be considerably improved,” the circular said.It also pledged to establish a better regulatory mechanism and to provide improved technical support for food safety in the next five years, while also stepping up the monitoring of food.It said township-level governments and neighbourhood committees in cities should conduct food-safety inspections and work closely with law enforcement officers, among other tasks.“The responsibilities of grass-roots-level governments for food safety must be consolidated to build a firewall, and all risks must be nipped in the bud,” the circular says.It also called for a system to be devised to hold officials accountable for their management of food safety. Senior government officials should take food safety into account when evaluating the work of lower-level government cadres, the State Council said.It said officials would be more severely punished when food-safety violations are found.An unidentified official with the Food Safety Commission Office of the State Council said in a separate statement on Tuesday that the foundations of the food-safety regime were poor and that those in charge of food production had failed to meet national standards.The official conceded that food-safety scandals occur because some of those who produce and distribute food have low morals and seek only to make money.The strategic move by the State Council will shift the focus of food-safety regulation to the grass roots, where there are countless food distributors. Supervising and regulating them all is extremely difficult, and implementing food-safety regulations at the grass roots will be a daunting task, according to the State Council circular.Last year, the State Council led crackdowns on tainted foodstuffs, including on the use of illegal chemical additives and on the feeding to pigs of clenbuterol to keep their meat lean.Authorities also cracked down on the sale of recycled kitchen oil, known as “gutter oil”, and stepped up inspections of dairy products and wine.More than 7,000 people were detained in connection with 5,200 criminal cases involving food safety, and there were convictions in 333 cases. Some of those convicted were given suspended death sentences or life imprisonment.The hope is that meting out such severe punishment will deter breaches of food safety and improve the public’s morale.
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