By Juanjuan SUN
Two Sessions have been opened since March 3, including the annual session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference as the top government advisory body, and the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress as top Legislative body. As usual, the enforcement of food safety regulation is still the high concern during these two Sessions. For example, during the Report of Work of the Government presented by the Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during the opening ceremony of the National People’s Congress, food safety has been mentioned as one of the social problems that have emerged in the course of economic and social development, which calls for a strong sense of responsibility of the government. To this purpose, following the proposals concerning the State Council institutional reform and transformation of government functions, the State Administration of Food and Drug has planned to reorganize itself into a single general administration, with the purpose of restructuring the sector-based regulatory system into one department-led system by giving more power to the above-mentioned general administration.
As far as food safety regulation is concerned, some of the more frequent problems questioned are the gaps and overlaps in the regulatory functions and responsibilities, due to the involvement of more than five government ministries. As a remedy, the State Administration of Food and Drug was established in 2003, in order to strengthen the cooperation and coordination among the involved ministries. However, this vice-ministry-level organization failed to meet its mission since it lacked adequate power to commend the ministry-level organizations to follow its suggestions in reality (like the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Health for example). As a result, the institutional reform and transformation of government functions in 2008 integrated the State Administration of Food and Drug into the Minister of Health and made the latter as the leading Ministry in the cooperation and coordination of food safety regulation.
While such organizational arrangement is further clarified by the newly established Food Safety Law (Article 4), the State Committee for Food Safety is also required to be set up, in order to coordinate and instruct different ministries on their responsibilities regarding food safety. However, given that food scandals still happen, the current coordination and cooperation among the several ministries still fails to reassure the consumers’ confidence for food safety.
The newly reorganized State General Administration of Food and Drug as a ministry-level organization has integrated several functions and responsibilities of food safety regulation including:
– The work of coordination owned by the Office for the State Committee for Food Safety;
– The official control of food safety at the stage of production owned by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine;
– The official control of food safety at the stage of circulation owned by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce;
– The official control of food safety at the stage of catering owned by the current State Administration of Food and Drug.
Therefore, it is responsible for the unified official control for food safety, covering the food supply chain from production to circulation, and to the final stage of consumption. Notably, not only the functions and responsibilities for official control will be integrated to such single ministry, but also the scattered technical support for inspection under the different ministries, such as the organ of technical test at the stage of production and circulation, which will be transferred to this ministry as well.
Yet, it should be pointed out that this so-called one-department-led system is not absolute since the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture are still involved, the former being responsible for the risk assessment and food safety standard settings while the latter is responsible for the official control of agricultural food. Since such reorganization is still under development, it is still too early to say whether this reinforcement by establishing one powerful ministry will be successful to solve the long-time worried food safety concern in China.