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The city’s food safety work

Apr 18, 2017

The Shanghai Municipal Government’s Information Office hosted a press conference on March 17 on food safety.

Chen Yin, vice mayor of Shanghai
Yan Zuqiang, director, Shanghai Food Safety Office and Shanghai Food and Drug Administration
Lu Ming, deputy director, Shanghai Agricultural Commission
Xu Wei, spokesperson, Shanghai Municipal Government

Laodong Daily: These days, people are concerned about the safety of food being sold at Muji’s chain stores as more than 70 percent of the food in Shanghai comes from other places. After the new food safety regulation was enacted, what measures will be taken to ensure food from outside can be tracked to their source to guarantee safety?

Yan Zuqiang: Vice Mayor Chen Yin has stated in the general introduction that Shanghai’s most strict local legislation will be implemented in the way that makes supervision strict and governs the source of food: Shanghai authorities will make a registry of testing and quarantine reports issued in other places in China and local authorities will enhance information sharing and joint supervision of imported food.

The Shanghai Exit-Entry Inspection and Quarantine Bureau and the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration have enhanced inspection of relevant products in Shanghai following news reports relating to Muji. So far, no problem-related foodstuff has been found in the municipality but the authorities will continue to keep a close eye on this issue. We had already made radioactive contamination a priority in 2016 during food-safety risk monitoring. We have been testing vegetables, fruits, milk and particularly seafood for radioactive contamination. The tests include 10 types of experiments on 50 food samples of seven categories of food, which cover all parts of the food circulation cycle from production to terminal market. All tests results meet national radioactive safety standards.

Wenhui Daily: Constructing the Chongming Ecological Island Green Farm Produce Base is a new target in the blueprint of building a food safety city. How will Shanghai take this opportunity to promote the quality and safety of farm produce?

Lu Ming: Chongming is a key agricultural district, which has a high percentage of area cultivating farm products and whose farm products have high occupation rate on the wet market. Chongming’s development of green farm products is designed not only for the district’s own needs but it will also improve the productivity of Shanghai’s green farm products and their quality and safety in full scale.

Its development follows the national agriculture standardization strategy as stated in the No. 1 Document of the CPC Central Committee: promoting green development in agriculture, focusing on quality, safety and green measures, which also deepen agriculture supply-side structural reforms. This also follows the key persistent practices on ensuring quality in agriculture. Shanghai will seize the opportunity of developing Chongming as an ecological island and following major plan of deepening agriculture supply-side structural reforms to focus on development of green farm products. With this, the city will strive to develop green agriculture while ensuring both productivity and supervision of quality and safety of products.

Three fields of responsibilities should be ensured: those of regional governments, agriculture departments and local agriculture enterprises. Production and supervision should be imposed together: the authorities should improve the farm product standard system to ensure quality and safety and set up internal control systems for production enterprises. Demonstration agriculture parks should be set up to improve certification of farm products. Fertilizers and pesticides should be reduced along with crop rotation to ensure safety and organic food from the sources.

Supervision will be ensured by improving the supervision, law enforcement and monitoring teams. Inspections will also be carried out, including fast testing, flight inspection, quantity inspection and special inspection, to enhance supervision of production environment, agriculture supplies and farm product quality. Farm product supervision platforms will be set up to improve agricultural capital supervision and tracking of farm products with the help of information technology. These measures will be fully carried out under the framework of local food safety regulations.

China National Radio: How will the government find a balance between supervision by law and encouragement of innovation and business start-ups on the issue of food safety?

Yan Zuqiang: Some days ago, a few unlicensed restaurants became Internet sensations during the previous round of campaign against unlicensed food outlets. We had insisted that these restaurants should first obtain a legal license before operation. But residents have their own demands and these restaurants offer them convenience. If these eateries do not disturb residents and generally meet hygiene standards, they have been offered some solutions: ensure provisions to meet residents’ demands while small food businesses that meet regulations get temporarily registered. Supervision will be carried out on the small food businesses with the joint action of the fire department, as well as the environment protection, urban management and house management authorities and information shared among these departments. These actions should serve the ultimate target of making these small food businesses meet formal food business standards and obtain formal business licenses and food operation permits. They will be offered a period of time to obtain formal licenses and permits with an upper limit of three years.

We will generate two lists when we innovate on governance: first is the white list: providing some of the requirements to allow access to food businesses and delegation of power to towns and sub-districts. Second is a negative list for supervision departments and companies: to totally ban some of the products’ use in food operation and ban some fields from food operation. Our target is to protect the health of the people and we have zero tolerance for food safety violations. The two lists will be brought out three days later and supporting regulations will also be submitted to legal departments for legislation reviews. They will be released soon. All these new policies have been put online to collect public opinion. We have collected very valuable opinions and we will accept all that are feasible. We also hope that the media will supervise our work to improve food safety.

Phoenix TV: We want to learn more about the imported food problem from Japan. We know that many imported food items from Japan have been taken off the shelves at many supermarkets. Are these actions voluntary or following government orders? When will sales of imported Japanese food that meet food safety regulations resume?

Yan Zuqiang: This question is of public concern and CCTV reports mentioned that imported Japanese food items are mainly sold on e-commerce platforms online and probably the only relevant offline store is Muji. Yesterday, the Shanghai Exit-Entry Inspection and Quarantine Bureau answered the notice by Muji to declare that Muji’s products are not from the banned import source areas. We have also stepped up our review work. We are not just focusing on one enterprise or one store but only targeting possible risky products. So far, no such risky products have been found.

We also noticed that some shops have voluntarily removed commodities which they believed did not have clear production sources or still required further production source certification. These firms are voluntarily shouldering social responsibilities, which is a commendable attitude.

Ten areas around Fukushima were listed as banned import source areas as early as March 2011 and relevant food safety inspections have been implemented since. We have stepped up monitoring since six years ago, Shanghai’s food items are generally kept under safe condition.

Xu Wei: The Shanghai Exit-Entry Inspection and Quarantine Bureau has released a notice on the issue yesterday. We will continue our checks on imported Japanese food source areas as before to strive to prevent radioactive contaminated Japanese food from entering Chinese territory. If you have questions about food safety of imported food, you can contact exit-entry inspection and quarantine officials anyway.

Jiefang Daily: Last week a food safety white book revealed that occurrence rate of collective food poisoning cases has been increasing; the city still has food safety problems related to unlicensed food businesses and the substandard rate of seafood is still high. What are the current major challenges of food safety in Shanghai? How will the residents’ satisfactory rate be measured besides improving supervision standards?

Yan Zuqiang: Last year the city had seven collective food poisoning cases, an increase compared to the previous two years. We continue to have zero-tolerance on food poisoning, which harms people’s health and can even be fatal. The local government put these issues as top priority and city leaders talked to relevant district government officials exclusively on these issues hoping to find causes and enhance supervision. The main reason for these incidents is enterprises not taking up their responsibilities: food operation permits of three of the firms had expired, the working process on food at two others was below standards and the remaining two companies had relatively poor hygiene conditions.

You mentioned substandard rate of seafood; last year the agriculture department and neighboring provinces and municipalities enhanced all types of crackdown. The State FDA also issued notices on preventing illegal additives in agriculture. Other part is transportation, a method that is still coarse and backward, thereby causing food safety problems. Living marine creatures need to be kept alive according to traditional thinking and illegal additives are used for this task. Some developed countries’ experiences prove that refrigerated food is more reliable on food safety. The epidemic of bird flu has forced local consumers to accept frozen chicken. Of course, inspection is the ultimate measure and last year 92 percent of seafood in the market met local standards and we will step up supervision along with relevant departments to improve seafood standards.

For private home cuisine and online delivery of meals, we support online delivery and have set up a quality and food safety standard system. We will cooperate with some online meal delivery platforms to use big data to strictly control access of these platforms for food businesses, following food safety regulation and reviewing access information. No food businesses will be allowed online until they have cleared background information checks. Only strict review and supervision will ensure a better future for the industry.

Residents’ satisfactory rating survey will mainly be based on their feedback and we will let the public rate food safety. We will focus on food widely consumed by the people and solve food safety problems that are concerned by many people to improve people’s satisfaction.

STV: Some imported food have managed to bypass customs and the inspection department and entered the domestic market through, pilot free trade zone or buying-for-others from overseas. How will these loopholes be closed? Some netizens are worried about Japanese rice and wheat meals; what is their risk level?

Chen Yin: Actually and buying-for-others have developed really fast, generating new requirements for government supervision. Some new businesses and new business models can’t be well managed with the traditional measures and they require joint action of departments. Previously, government departments work in separate fields and now the new situation requires them to work together. They should share information and formulate reasonable standards. Supervision should be improved continuously according to the changing situation and consumers, platforms and companies are all invited to participate in food safety supervision. This year’s food safety city action plan stated that the whole society should be mobilized to supervise food safety and the many platforms, companies should also shoulder their own responsibilities. Food businesses on these platforms should also meet relevant food safety requirements to enable more effective supervision.

Yan Zuqiang: Shanghai’s supervision abilities and our laboratory’s testing capabilities can be fully trusted. We have been checking for radioactive contaminated food from Japan since as early as when the Fukushima Nuclear Incident took place and our technology teams are very professional. We have completed talks with the Exit-Entry Inspection and Quarantine Bureau to set up a supervision information platform to cross-check information on imported, registered food items. We concede that some gaps between supervision departments and some information asymmetry do exist. These problems will be solved by regional legislation. We will speed up setting up the information platform and accelerate the formulation of transitional systems to ensure food safety for Shanghai residents.