China proposes food safety laws

Proposed penalties and fines come in the wake of global concern about the safety of China's food exports.

Fish: A laborer dries fish in Yingtanm, Jiangxi province. Chinese officials have proposed laws intended to improve food quality and safety standards, the official news agency reports.

China's proposed food safety law, which promises tough penalties, including possible life imprisonment for makers of dangerous food products, is a good first step, industry officials and analysts said Tuesday.

A draft version of the law, released this week, is aimed at raising standards for an industry that has taken a beating after a series of quality scandals, including tainted exports.

Producers of substandard food could be sentenced to life in prison under the draft law, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

One food industry official said in addition to punishing people, the government should educate producers about the need to have better practices.

"Penalties and violations are not enough; it has to be a comprehensive process, a continuous process, not just a one-time fine," said James Rice, country manager for greater China for food manufacturer Tyson Foods Inc.

The draft law was issued on the Website of China's legislature, the National People's Congress, as part of the government's new initiative to solicit public comment.

After May 20 it will be submitted to the legislature for consideration, although no date has been set for when it will become law.

The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the draft, but said a food safety law should be more inclusive and cover food products from the farm to the final consumer.

The draft law does not cover basic agriculture products, Hans Troedsson, WHO's China representative, said in a statement.

Zhou Qing, a journalist who spent two years writing a book about food safety in China, said strong implementation of the law is needed.

"China should constantly focus on the problem of food safety, instead of just carrying out campaigns which don't have a long-lasting effect. Ordinary people will only observe the law if the government takes it very seriously," Mr. Zhou said.

China pledged to crack down on food safety problems after its exports, including fish tainted with pesticides, came under heavy scrutiny last year.

The draft law aims to improve monitoring of food and establish a recall system for unsafe products.

Makers of substandard food products could face fines, imprisonment, and the confiscation of their production certificates.

Fines range from 5,000 yuan to 100,000 yuan ($715 to $14,300), according to the draft.

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