BEIJING, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) -- A campaign that aims to boost the public's role in safeguarding food safety and promote awareness of the issue was launched at the 9th China Food Safety Annual Conference, which closed on Sunday.
Food safety has a bearing on people's health as well as the nation's sound and harmonious development, said Shi Xiushi, chairman of the Financial and Economic Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC), at the opening, calling for efforts to raise companies' sense of responsibility and consumers' awareness in preventing and dealing with food safety crimes.
The new campaign is part of a broader five-year program (2011-2015) of food safety education announced by the State Council Food Safety Commission (SCFSC) in May.
The program aims for more than 80 percent of the public to be aware of basic food safety by 2015, with the rate for primary and high-school students reaching up to 85 percent or more.
Food safety has become a growing public concern in China following a string of scandals over recent years. In the latest one, illegal workshops were found making and selling "gutter oil," which is processed from leftovers dredged from gutters.
Gu Xiulian, former vice chairwoman of the NPC's Standing Committee, the country's top legislature, said ensuring safety is the top priority for the food sector, the country's pillar industry with an output of 550 million yuan (97.3 million U.S. dollars) in the first nine months of 2011.
The development of the nation's food safety has failed to keep up with the demands of a public whose living standards have improved substantially in recent years, said Shi.
Pledging to do everything it can to ensure food safety, the government takes a zero-tolerance approach to companies that sell unsafe food. In 2010 alone, authorities across the country investigated and handled 130,000 cases of food safety violations, shutting down more than 100,000 companies, according to the SCFSC.
"The food industry's overall development level is relatively low. There are weak links in the sector's credibility, management, detection techniques and even the laws and regulations," said Pu Changcheng, deputy director of the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
Pu's points are exemplified by China's agricultural industry, which is largely based around small-scale production managed by disparate bodies. It would be a formidable task to eradicate the sector's safety issues.
The catering business also faces a similar plight. The country has issued licenses to 2.2 million catering companies, most of which are small and individually operated, making safety supervision extremely difficult, according to Bian Zhenjia, deputy head of the State Food and Drug Administration.
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION WILL HELP
"Although the overall situation of food safety remains stable, there are still outstanding problems," said Gu Xiulian. "What the government urgently needs is to further promote food safety laws to improve public awareness."
The SCFSC was created in February 2010 to better implement the food safety laws that took effect in June 2009 and coordinate the country's food safety work.
But a report by Chinese legislators delivered to the NPC's Standing Committee in June showed that, due to a lack of understanding of laws, some food manufacturers continue to act in an underhand and dishonest fashion.
"Through a series of well-organized and impressive educational activities, we hope to truly improve the safety awareness of the whole population and create a good atmosphere with every citizen devoted to safeguarding food safety," Gu said.
The campaign, which will be carried out in communities, villages, schools and enterprises, will showcase the nation's food safety progress, instructing on food safety procedures and promoting food safety laws.
While praising the role played by the country's 120,000 licensed food producers in ensuring food safety, Pu Changcheng appealed to food enterprises to take responsibility.
"The key, or the basis, for promoting the food sector and safeguarding food safety lies with our food producers," Pu said. "Safe food is not gained from supervision, but from safe production.
"We hope these enterprises that are already good demonstrators on safeguarding food safety will continue to play a role in pursuing credibility and self discipline, improving management and promoting the sector's sound development."
The two-day conference attracted more than 600 participants from government departments, research institutes, industry associations and food enterprises.