Will China food law cut out bad stuff?

A vendor stands at her fruit stall in Beijing.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Secretary Geithner probably had all of his meals taken care of at official banquets I'd guess, but in the rest of China food safety is a serious issue. Today Beijing rolled out a new food safety law. It's meant to address the various scandals that have hit that country's food supply in the past couple of years. Pet food, toothpaste, cold medicines and most recently, tainted infant formula that killed at least six Chinese babies. Marketplace's Scott Tong reports that the law looks good on paper. But there are some doubts about how effectively it'll be implemented.


SCOTT TONG: Beijing knows it has a bad rap as an exporter. So cue the food safety law. This is part of China's re-branding. Zhang Bing is with consultancy AT Kearney.

Zhang BING: China has been sending a very bad message in terms of the product qualities. And that has had an impact on the food-related exports for China.

The law creates safety and recall standards for foodmakers. It tells them to list all additives, and it imposes harsh fines for violators. But in China the devil is in the enforcement. Sure the central government's for it. But Penn law professor Jacques deLisle wonders about the local level.

JACQUES deLisle: There are going to be local interests that cut against enforcing it, for instance shutting down local producers can have an adverse effect on the local economy, and that's something local official worry a great deal about.

China's a big place, with hundreds of thousands of teeny tiny food processors almost impossible to monitor. Still, in the long run, the law does signal Beijing is serious about food safety. And the emerging middle class here demands quality nosh, so things eventually may get better. Shanghai lawyer Mark Schaub says, in any event, things weren't that bad here to begin with.

MARK Schaub: The only time I've ever been sick from eating anything in China was eating a Christmas cake at a five-star hotel about 15 years ago. It's not like everything is tainted here.

The Mandarins in Beijing hope the new food law echoes that message. And they're praying they don't have another safety scandal.

In Shanghai, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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