Europe is committed to working with China to ensure the highest standards of food safety and quality, according to the EU health commissioner.

Vytenis Andriukaitis made the comments at the Ecological Agriculture and Food Safety Forum organized by the Chinese State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) in Shanghai earlier this month.

He said dialogue with Chinese authorities includes bilateral sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) related issues, accepting the EU as a single entity and improving market access for European food products.

“Our overarching aim is to assess current and future challenges; to share best practices and initiatives; and to collectively ensure the highest standards of food safety and food quality. The EU looks to China with an open, flexible and pragmatic approach. This is very much in line with its traditions, which have often led to appropriate solutions and concrete trade openings in sensitive areas,” said Andriukaitis.

The SAMR was established earlier this year. It consolidates the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) and China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA).

Andriukaitis told attendees that a lot has changed in food safety in the past two decades.

“Our relationship with Asian partners, particularly China, has developed significantly. Over the same period, consumers have become more and more engaged – food safety, food quality and healthy food are now a major concern for many citizens worldwide, and rightfully so. We have made considerable scientific progress, for example when it comes to the detection, treatment and elimination of food safety threats. But new risks have also emerged,” he said.

“Globalization and changes in citizens’ habits have increased consumer demand for better food safety in a longer and increasingly complex global chain. This multiplies both the hazards and risks involved. The challenges facing food safety are not unique to the EU or to any one country. So we are keen to continue sharing our experience, increase dialogue and exchange best practices with partners and non-EU countries across the globe.”

Andriukaitis also joined Andreas Hensel, president, German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Barbara Gallani, European Food Safety Authority, Stephen Ostroff, US FDA, and Professor Chris Elliott from Queen’s University Belfast at the China International Food Safety & Quality Conference in Shanghai.

China, including Hong Kong, is the second export market for European food and drinks with a value of €16 billion ($18.2 billion) in 2017 representing 12 percent of total EU food exports, according to a book on food safety governance in China.

Andriukaitis said the EU system strives to maintain consumer confidence in the safety of the food chain.

“We in the EU have developed a sophisticated food safety policy, one that draws important lessons from past crises and also considers new challenges, such as drought, global warming, population growth, and unnecessary food waste,” he said.

“Our strict food safety and food production system applies in exactly the same way when it comes to trade. Our legislation is very clear about this – food items cannot be imported unless they meet the EU’s high standards.”

China has been the subject of many food safety incidents in recent years from “gutter oil” to melamine tainted milk, and fake meat to contaminated strawberries.

According to the book, which had input from Chinese and European experts including academics and officials, the country has a huge network of small food production and processing companies, 98 percent of them with less than 10 employees, which makes it difficult for authorities to carry out supervision and control.

A new Food Safety Law in 2009 was revised in 2015, a risk assessment authority created in 2011 and the China Food and Drug Administration was founded in March 2013 before being absorbed by SAMR this year.

Cooperation between the two parties includes the EU-China-Safe project, which started last year and runs until 2021. It is made up of 15 EU participants and 18 from China including Danone, Nestlé, Wageningen University, Nofima, Fera Science and the BfR.

It will build components for a joint EU-China food safety system such as: control management, legislation, inspection, food control labs, and food safety and quality information, education and communication.

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