From The Editor | January 17, 2017

How Is China Tackling Its Food Safety Struggles?

Source: Food Online
Sam Lewis

By Sam Lewis, associate editor
Follow Me On Twitter @SamIAmOnFood

How Is China Tackling Its Food Safety Struggles?

It’s no secret; in recent years, China has suffered through some serious food safety issues. Recognizing a dire need for improvement, China has created and implemented plans for a dramatic turnaround in food safety regulations. Here, Dr. Xinyu Weng, CFDA Division Director for International Cooperation and current First Secretary of the Embassy of China in the U.S., answers Global Food Safety Forum (GFSF) Chairman Rick Gilmore’s questions on behalf of Food Online on the reformation of China’s food safety legislation and its worldwide impact. Additionally, Dr. Wang offers his thoughts on how China has recovered from and is preventing another melamine infant formula powder milk scandal.

Food Online: The China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) is a relatively new organization, established in 2013. Still, other government agencies — Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), and National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) — have food safety responsibilities in China. Can you explain each group’s responsibilities?

Dr WengDr. Weng: In order to improve food safety supervision and improve the efficiency of regulation, the Chinese government underwent major reforms regarding the food safety regulatory system in 2013. There are four ministries responsible for food safety supervision after this reform. MOA is mainly responsible for the supervision and regulation of the quality and safety of agricultural products for food use before the products enter the wholesale, retail or processing stages.

CFDA is mainly responsible for the supervision and regulation of domestic food production, distribution, restaurant, and catering, as well as agricultural products for food use after the products enter the wholesale, retail, or processing channels. CFDA also has the title of the State Council Food Safety Commission Office and is responsible for conducting routine State Council Food Safety Commission work, coordinating comprehensive food safety supervisory work, facilitating improvements in private and public sector food safety coordination and management, supervising and inspecting provincial governments’ work on food safety supervision, and monitoring and evaluating their performance.

AQSIQ is responsible for the supervision and regulation of the safety and quality of food imports and exports, as well as food packaging materials, containers, and food processing equipment.

NHFPC is mainly responsible for food safety risk assessment and setting food safety standards.

Food Online: The new and amended Food Safety Law of China came into effect on October 1, 2015. CFDA has accomplished a great deal during this brief period of time. What would you highlight as the Agency’s major achievements? 

Dr. Weng: Food safety is a top priority for the Chinese government. President Xi Jinping has underscored the need to implement the strictest measures to ensure food and drug safety, featuring rigorous standards, strict supervision, serious punishments, and an authoritative accountability system.

The latest opinion polls show that since the implementation of the new law, consumer satisfaction with food safety has improved significantly. Since the new law came into effect, CFDA has established relevant provisions to implement the law, such as:

  • Provision for Food Production and Distribution Permit
  • Provision for Health Food Registration and Notification
  • Administrative Measures for Investigation and Punishment of Illegal Online Sales of Food

In accordance with the new law, CFDA has adopted a risk-based approach in conducting unannounced inspection and systematic inspections for high-risk food products and is now considering the establishment of professional food inspection teams. Starting in December 2016, Chinese food and drug authorities will classify food manufacturers and distributors into four risk categories with corresponding regulatory guidelines for each grouping of companies.

Food Online: Would you discuss a bit more the implementation of risk-based food safety inspection system guidelines?

Dr. Weng: The risk-based approach to food safety surveillance is an internationally accepted practice which we find not only improves our regulatory efficiencies, but also ensures food manufacturer and distributor accountability. The Administrative Measures for Risk Classification of Food Manufacturers and Distributors (Interim) was issued by CFDA and came into effect on December 1, 2016.

Risk levels for food manufacturers and distributors are classified from A (lowest) to D (highest). The quantitative risk score is based on a scale of 40 for “static risk” factors and 60 for “dynamic risk factors” with a higher score translating to a higher risk level. The sum of the risk scores of 0-30 (inclusive) is A-level risk; the sum of the risk scores of 30-45 (inclusive) is B-level risk; the sum of the risk scores of 45-60 (inclusive) is C-level risk, and the sum of the risk scores above 60 is D-level risk.

Provision for Risk Classification of Food Manufacturers and Distributors also clarifies the inspection frequency for food manufacturers and distributors of different risk levels. For A-level risk companies, regulators will inspect at least once per year .For B-level risk companies, regulators will inspect at least once, sometimes twice per year. For C-level risk companies, regulators will inspect at least 2-3 times per year; for D-level risk companies, regulators will inspect at least three to four times per year.

Food Online: The melamine scandal in Chine received worldwide attention. What measures has the CFDA taken to ensure the safety and quality of infant formula milk powder?

Dr. Weng: Premier Li Keqiang has highlighted the importance of improving the quality and safety of infant formula milk powder in China aiming to build consumer confidence in domestic product. Quality and safety supervision of infant formula milk powder have been the top priorities for the CFDA.

Food Online: Do you consider this flagrant economically motivated adulteration (EMA) practice now to be resolved? What are the main requirements of the new CFDA Provisions for Formula Registration of infant formula milk powder?

Dr. Weng: In recent years, China's infant formula milk powder quality and safety levels have improved, gaining national consumer confidence in domestic milk powder. In 2015, the CFDA initiated a special supervision and surveillance program for domestic infant formula milk powder and found 28 batches out of the total of 2065 batches did not meet the national food safety standards, accounting for 1.36 percent of the total sample. In the first half of 2016, a total of 1274 batches of domestic infant formula milk powder were tested, with 8 batches failing to meet the standards, accounting for 0.6 percent of the total samples.

The main measures taken by the CFDA include:

  • Enforcing stricter threshold requirements for manufacturers of infant formula milk powder. In December 2013, the CFDA issued a new version of Infant Formula Milk Powder Production License Review Rules which includes stricter production license review requirements. These requirements have served to a reduce the  number of operating manufacturers of infant formula milk powder from 133 to 103
  • Strengthening the surveillance and sampling for infant formula milk powder
  • Initiating severe punishment for substandard products
  • Improving systematic inspection for manufacturers of infant formula milk powder
  • Clarifying the traceability responsibilities of the manufacturers of infant formula milk powder

Through continuous strengthening of regulatory measures, the quality and safety of China's infant formula milk powder products have been significantly improved.

According to the new Food Safety Law and the relevant provisions, on June 6, 2016, the CFDA issued the Provision for Formula Registration of Infant Formula Milk Power, which lays out formula registration requirements for domestic and imported products of infant formula milk powder. The applicants must have the appropriate R&D capacity, production capacity, and testing capacity of infant formula milk powder. Applicants must also comply with the requirements of the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) for powdered infant formula, implement the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, and carry out batch-by-batch testing of the manufactured products in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations and the national standards for food safety.

Food Online: What would you say are the biggest challenges for the CFDA at the moment?

Dr. Weng: China's food safety supervision still faces many challenges. These are the challenges that the rest of the world is also facing, such as microbial contamination of food, pesticide residues, and environmental pollution. In addition, we are facing a number of other difficulties. For example, our agricultural cultivation methods are relatively unrefined, food safety standards need to be improved, and the regulatory resources and capacity in different regions are not equal among all the provinces.

China imports hundreds of millions of tons of soybeans, grains, meat products, and dairy products from abroad every year. It also exports food products worth nearly $100 billion to the international market. Strengthening international cooperation in the field of food safety is the basic prerequisite for the development of food trade.

The CFDA looks forward to improving cooperation with other countries’ food safety regulatory authorities in sharing information on food safety risks and food regulatory laws and regulations. We look forward to learning from one another and collaborating in the overall goal of improving and strengthening global food safety standards.

About Rick Gilmore
Rick GilmoreRick Gilmore is President/ CEO of GIC Group, an international agribusiness company, who founded and now serves as Chairman of the Global Food Safety Forum, a non-profit industry organization with 400 corporate members and an office in Beijing. He previously served as Chief Economist of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Director of Food Policy for The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He serves on a number of boards and as an advisor to the US government. He is the author of 2 books on agriculture and numerous articles, plus is a media commentator on commodity markets.

About Dr. Xinyu Weng
As the primary point of contact for China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) in the U.S., Dr. Weng is committed to strengthening bilateral food and drug regulatory cooperation between China and the U.S. and reaching out to the U.S. food and drug industry. Before being transferred to the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC, Dr. Weng served as a Division Director in the Department of International Cooperation, CFDA, since May 2013. In this capacity, he was responsible for bilateral cooperation with foreign food and drug regulatory authorities and non-governmental organizations, as well as foreign food and drug manufacturers. Dr. Weng was essential in the negotiations of the Implementing Arrangement between CFDA and U.S. FDA regarding the cooperative mechanism of regulatory staff in 2014. Dr. Weng joined State Drug Administration (SDA) in 1998, holding various positions including Division Director in the Department of Drug Safety and Supervision, and Deputy Division Director in the Department of Drug Registration. Dr. Weng got his Ph.D. from Shenyang Pharmaceutical University. He completed his MBA degree at the Birmingham University of the United Kingdom.