China Overhauling Food Safety Standards

Published online: Nov 03, 2006 ERS USDA AmberWaves Nov. 2006
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Washington DC--Adverse publicity about contaminated food exports from China have instilled an urgent effort to overhaul the food satety standards. In addition there is a growing demand on the domestic homefront for safer food. "China's efforts are an important case study of a country's striving to elevate standards in its food and agriculture sector to international food safety standards," AmberWaves November 2006 issue. "Implementing a 21st-century food safety system in China poses a challenge. It is difficult to standardize and monitor produciton practices in a sector composed of 200 million farm households who typically have 1-2 acres of land divided into 4-6 noncontiguous plots. Farmers have only usage rights to their land, so they lack ownership incentives to make costly investments." "Many of China's food safety problems can be traced back to the farm level. Farmers rely on heavy use of chemicals to coax production out of intensively cultivated soils and deal with pest pressures, a practice that contributes to food safety problems. China has one of the world's highest rates of chemical fertilizer use per hectare, and Chinese farmers use many highly toxic pesticides, including some that are banned in the United States. Farm chemicals are sometimes mislabeled. The Chinese government is tackling this problem by encouraging farmers to buy agricultural chemicals only from approved outlets. Some farmers have little understanding of correct chemical use; for example, they may fail to wait the prescribed number of days between the last application of a pesticide and harvest, resulting in excessive residues in the harvested product. Antibiotics are widely used to control disease in livestock, poultry, and aquaculture products. Industrialization and lax environmental controls have also led to concern about the potential for heavy metal contamination of food products. Untreated human and animal waste in fields and water raises the risk of microbial contamination." To learn more about this topic and read the rest of the article visit www.ers.usda.gov/AmberWaves/November06/Features/FoodSafety.htm