Official Chinese media recently reported that the country will pour money into its food monitoring and risk assessment system technologies.  This influx of money is meant to improve food safety in accordance with a food safety law that was passed in 2009 in response to the melamine milk scandal.

A report submitted to China’s top legislature this month detailed the government’s initiative to improve the assessment of food and agricultural product safety.   Xinhua reported that the Ministry of Health has established 31 food safety monitoring centers at the provincial level and 312 nationally, while the Ministry of Agriculture has expanded its monitoring of agricultural product safety to 259 large- and medium-sized cities.

While the report’s authors acknowledge that food safety monitoring in China is still developing, they state that the Chinese government will increase spending on technology and will introduce other measures to improve monitoring. reports that the Chinese will increase the use of third-party food inspections.

China has ramped up its focus on food safety since the melamine-tainted milk scandal, when at least 6 babies died and 300,000 became ill after they were fed infant formula containing melamine.  Manufacturers used melamine to artificially inflate the protein content of milk samples.  More recently, mooncakes, shrimp, and tea oil contaminated with various adulterants–even known carcinogens–have raised red flags among Chinese consumers.  

Zhong Yaoguang, a professor at the College of Food Science & Technology of Shanghai Ocean University, noted that increased inspections, including those by third-party companies, may not be the answer to improving food safety in China.  “These scandals were caused by toxic chemicals…forbidden by the food regulation [and] thus out of the scope of inspection,” he told  Yaoguang noted that inspections currently focus on excessive use of legal additives.

Earlier this month at least 87 toddlers were hospitalized with gastrointestinal illness after eating what officials believe was tainted yogurt.  The investigation into the children’s illness is ongoing. 

Just last week, Chinese authorities announced that several people who had eaten crawfish had been diagnosed with Haff disease, an illness caused by the ingestion of biotoxins that can cause kidney failure within 24 hours.  At a press conference, officials announced that the crawfish eaten by 23 people with Haff disease was potentially tainted with a powder used to wash them, but that they had not finished the investigation.

Chinese supervision and testing authorities conducted an investigation during which crawfish from several fish farms, wholesale outlets, and restaurants were tested.  Banned food additives or chemicals that would cause Haff’s disease were not identified.

Another step for food safety

Food safety leaders from across the globe will convene in Shanghai from Nov. 10-11, for the fourth annual China International Food Safety and Quality Conference and Expo.  

“Food is essential, and safety should be a top priority.  Food safety is closely related to people’s lives and health, economic development, and social harmony,” says a statement from Vice Premier Li Keqiang, Head of the National Food Safety Commission, on the conference Website.  “We must create a food safety system of self-disciplined food companies with integrity, effective government supervision, and broad public support, to improve overall food safety.”

Keqiang was appointed to lead the national Food Safety Commission in response to the melamine milk scandal.