China announces it will update its food safety regulations

China’s Ministry of Health is revamping outdated standards, which, according to this article in Food Safety News, means its “’reviewing and abolishing any contradicting or overlapping standards’ and writing new ones.”

Why is China having this problem? Lester Ross, a Beijing-based attorney with U.S. law firm WilmerHale, said in the Wall Street Journal “some companies see that by using additives, they can cut overhead costs or boost profit margins, and they merely aren’t thinking about the affects the additives will have on consumers.”

In a 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, increased consumption of imported food is creating unique challenges for U.S. food safety officials. On one hand retailers and processors are trying to fill the U.S. demand for low-cost suppliers and exotic foods while also trying to meet U.S. food safety standards.

Food imported from China into the U.S. has tripled in value between 2001 and 2008. Several high profile food contamination and adulteration cases in China and the U.S. have made China a significant public food safety concern.

Here’s a short list of select food safety articles about China. More articles can be found in the New York Times:

Contaminated Milk Is Destroyed in China

Despite Government Efforts, Tainted Food Widespread in China

China: Government Investigates Reports of Problems With Milk Powder Diet

U.S. Drops Inspector of Food in China

The new food safety plan in China is calling for a more coordinated effort between 14 different government departments and has a deadline of 2015.

The priorities will be improved food safety standards for dairy products, infant food, meat, alcohol, vegetable oil, seasoning, health products and food additives.

Also important to note is less than one percent of the U.S. food supply comes from China, according to the 2009 USDA ERS report. Items imported include apple juice, garlic, canned mandarin oranges, fish, and shrimp.

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About Ryan Walker

Michigan State University graduate student in the Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition.
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