China reviews tougher laws amid milk scandal

BEIJING (Reuters) - China began reviewing a tougher draft food safety law on Thursday following criticism from the United Nations over its sluggish response to a spreading tainted milk scandal that made thousands of children ill.

China approved in principle a new food safety law last October following a raft of scandals involving unsafe toothpaste, seafood and pet food, among other products.

The country has since seen four children die and thousands of others made ill from drinking milk formula adulterated with melamine, which was subsequently found in other drinks and foods, prompting Chinese-made products to be stripped from shelves worldwide.

More than 3,000 children remain in hospital in China.

A new draft tabled to lawmakers on Thursday had added a provision scrapping a controversial system allowing local food watchdog agencies to grant exemptions to food producers for government quality inspections, Xinhua news agency said.

Sanlu Group, the company at the heart of the tainted formula scandal, and other Chinese companies later found to have produced melamine-tainted milk products had enjoyed the exemptions before the scandal broke last month.

The new draft also compels local governments to issue recall orders to companies that do not proactively pull problem products from the market, and strengthens provisions “to prevent the improper use and misuse of food additives,” the agency said.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization’s food safety chief Jorgen Schlundt described China’s food safety system as “disjointed” and said poor communications between dispersed ministries and agencies may have prolonged the outbreak of melamine poisoning.

China sacked officials in Shijiazhuang, home to Sanlu, for sitting on a report from the company about the melamine problem for more than a month, while Beijing hosted the Olympics in August.  Continued…

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