Supermarkets are good news for food safety in China

The rapid spread of supermarkets in China has been good for food safety, according to a top official presenting at the 2010 Food Safety Conference in Washington DC, USA, yesterday.

Dr Junshi Chen, head of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety at the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention in Beijing, China, said that, despite “some outstanding incidents,” food safety as a whole had improved in China.

This is thanks partly to new actions taken by the government – such as research and development investment, new tougher legislation and the development of a single mandatory food safety system, which will soon be implemented. But it was also partly due to the rapid development of modern retail.

The expansion of supermarkets in China was to be encouraged, Junshi said: “It has been a good thing for food safety.”

However, China’s problem is rooted in the sheer volume of very small producers who slip through the government’s net and cannot be adequately controlled.

“In the [official] documents they may say that they are exporting bicycles, but really it is food, or pet food,” Junshi said.

Ethics and honesty was a challenge. When foreign companies are assessing the risk of sourcing from a Chinese supplier, they should insist on government certificates, Junshi said. The Chinese government assurances are not enough.

You must also get your own source of information within China [and work with] a partner, because “within China, people know very well if a source is good.”