The Chinese media is reporting today on sweeping changes announced for the nation’s food safety standards.  In a bold statement, a senior health official declared that the new system "is expected to guarantee people’s health and be more compatible with international norms."  The primary focus points of the changes are the amount of pathogenic microorganisms, pesticide residue, microorganism residue, heavy metals and pollutants in food products, as well as the use of food additives are the priority areas.

Some of the changes being touted include:

  • the integration of existing food safety standards, elimination of areas that overlap or contradict each other, and establishment of new standards for areas that previously lacked regulation;
  • transparency in the making of the new system, including subjecting the new system to the opinions of international organizations and other countries, in line with a request from the World Trade Organization (WTO);
  • stepping up efforts to establish an efficient food safety coordination mechanism, improve the health emergency response system, and set up a food safety risk-monitoring and assessment system.

In sum, there are a lot of very exciting and potentially excellent elements being discussed that are necessary for a comprehensive food safety system.  All this has me wondering: Is China going to legitimately be in a position to tout itself as having the world’s safest food supply?  Washington, are you paying attention?

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that these changes are actually put into effect and enforced.  After all, China has some of the most impressive and far-reaching environmental laws on the books, but with almost no meaningful enforcement or violation penalties they are essentially worthless.