Session shows food safety still high among concerns
Food safety is undoubtedly one of the major issues that still fall short of people's ever-growing expectations for a better life. This explains why so many proposals have been put forward at the annual session of the National People's Congress this year, ranging from how to better supervise the mushrooming online food-delivery platforms to calls for perfecting the food tracking system.
It is an issue that the government is acutely aware of. Just last month, the central authorities released a set of rules aimed at improving the accountability of local officials in this regard, making their performance on food safety a major criterion in the official assessment of their governance capabilities. And at a news conference during the current session of the top legislature on Monday, Zhang Mao, head of the State Administration for Market Regulation, vowed to slap "the strictest punishment" on violators.
But in a vast country with millions of food factories and workshops, getting the market orderly is no easy task, and it is one made even more difficult given the shortage of law enforcement personnel and lack of knowledge about food hygiene among the public.
That's why food safety scandals keep emerging. There have been reports about excessive chemical residues, toxic contamination, abuse of additives and sales of substandard or counterfeit food products. Faced with such a stark reality, anyone could fall victim, which has exacerbated the public's fears.
The situation China finds itself in today may remind people of the unsanitary conditions in the Chicago meat processing industry in 1906, which the author Upton Sinclair depicted in The Jungle. Those scenes prompted US President Theodore Roosevelt to enact a series of food safety laws that transformed the country's food safety landscape.
China enacted its first food safety law in 2009, more than a hundred years later. Given that just 40 years before China could barely feed its population, the fact that a legal framework and national standards on food safety have now been put in place and are being implemented gives reason for optimism. It is easy, and right, to condemn food workshops that use gutter oil in pursuit of maximum profits, or to criticize officials for failing to play their supervisory roles properly. But only alertness to potential danger can ensure safety, and that is not just the government's responsibility.
True, the government must strengthen supervision over the entire process from production to plate, and ensure that those who break the law or fail to do their duty are held accountable.
But it is also important that each and every one of us plays our due part, possibly starting with simple things such as raising awareness of the importance of food hygiene.