China will speed up its improvement of food safety standards and finish clarifying existing food standards by the end of this year, according to a circular released by the State Council on Tuesday.
The circular, released on the Central Government’s website, also mentions other food safety efforts this year, including intensifying supervision of various sectors of the food industry, handing out severe punishment for food safety violations and improving the credit system to promote industry self-regulation.
Laws and regulations will be improved, and procedures and mechanisms for food standards will be improved to make their formulation more transparent, according to the circular.
The clarification process will focus on comparisons between and analysis of various food standards, after which proposals will be made on whether the standards should continue or be integrated or abolished.
China has more than 5,000 standards on food quality and hygiene, which were made by different government departments, Chen Xiaohong, vice-minister of the former health ministry, said in March.
"Some of them were overlapping while some contradicted one another," he said.
He also revealed a national center on food safety will be set up to consolidate these standards, a practice in line with countries that have good food safety regulations.
After the consolidation, the standards will be "unique and compulsory", he added.
Recent disputes over standards include Nongfu Spring, a major bottled water supplier in China, which was accused of adopting standards issued by Zhejiang province that were not updated to meet the national standards.
"Clarifying the standards is crucial as the lack of unified standards poses a major obstacle to food safety," said Dong Jinshi, a food safety expert in charge of the International Food Packaging Association.
Currently, a product may have multiple standards, which makes supervision of the food industry very difficult, Dong said.
The lack of food safety standards also poses difficulty in supervision, he said.
"For example, there are no standards to regulate dinnerware made of foam plastic, although they are used in large quantities," he said.
However, the consolidation of food standards will not be easy, and many difficulties still remain, Dong said.
"The interests of different departments regulating food safety will be involved in formulating the standards," he said.
In addition, as companies working in the food industry usually participate in formulating the standards, government departments should pay attention not to be influenced by them and ensure the new standards reflect the public interest, he said.