Local food safety watchdogs are being armed and empowered by their provincial governments at a rapid pace, in line with the central government’s diktat on preventing food safety issues.
According to Xinhua, one of the requirements borne out of instituting the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) last March was that provincial governments had to restructure their food safety monitoring mechanism too.
The CFDA replaced the erstwhile State Food and Drug Administration and a large group of overlapping regulators as the sole agency responsible for regulating the full process of food production, circulation and consumption.
Under the reshuffle, quality inspection departments were given more teeth by the CFDA and awarded food safety jurisdiction that was previously held by health as well as industry and commerce departments.
Increasing the number of inspectors
Yan Zuqiang, chief of the Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration, told Xinhua that one of the goals of the restructuring was to increase the number of grassroots inspectors.
According to Zuqiang, the previous monitoring mechanism was “olive-shaped,” with the higher management on the top and grassroots inspectors on the bottom largely outnumbered by middle management.
Adding that law enforcement at the grassroots level has been very weak, Zuqiang said that after the restructuring, the number of local grassroots inspectors has been on the rise. In Shanghai for example, it had risen to 1,700, representing the bulk of the city bureau's staff.
Although the CFDA is yet to announce the progress of the nationwide restructuring, Li Hongyuan, director of the food and drug administration of Xiamen City in Fujian Province, said that more than two-thirds of 31 provincial regions in China have completed the relevant restructuring so far.
Food safety is now an issue of a national concern after a number of safety scandals, the worst of which occurred in 2008 when melamine-tainted baby formula caused the deaths of at least six infants and sickened 300,000 others.
However, Xu Liping, municipal legislator with the city of Shanghai, also told Zinhua that the weakness of food safety supervision was at the grassroots, but that just numbers would not solve the issue.
“The number of inspectors cannot be increased infinitely. The key is to improve their competency and work style,” said Xu.