by Melva Robertson, Emory University
June 12, 2013 (TSR) – The Chinese Government seems committed to reforming food safety laws and investing in vital surveillance and monitoring systems, but experts say implementing those efforts could be challenging.
Published in the journal The Lancet, a new study suggests that the rapidly growing Chinese economy has led to a gradual change in focus from food supply issues to food safety.
Recent food contamination incidents, in particular, have jeopardized the public’s trust in food safety, and the presence of illegal chemical additives in food have led to public health hazards, social distrust of the food industry, and loss of public confidence in the country’s regulatory system.
But even as these high-profile additive contamination events have captured the nation’s attention, most food safety incidents in China are related to pathogenic microorganisms and toxic animals and plants entering the food supply, are strikingly under-reported, and cause significant ill health.
“Resolving the country’s food supply and safety challenges will require a multi-pronged approach, including novel legislative and regulatory actions, increased public engagement, and a renewed commitment by industry to uphold principles of environmental sustainability and consumer protection,” says Justin Remais, associate professor of global environmental health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. “However, my colleagues and I cautiously anticipate improvements in the coming years.”
Maintaining adequate supply as the Chinese diet shifts towards greater consumption of animal products is another key challenge China faces in the coming decade.
This is because acreage devoted to feed crops to supply the animal agricultural industry can compete with acreage for staples like rice and wheat, a trend that has been observed in China.
“In the 1990s, global analysts warned that China’s large population and the rapid conversion of arable land for urbanization and industrialization might eventually lead to a large gap between food demand and production in the country,” says Remais.
“This would place substantial strain on global markets for agricultural products, and potentially destabilize global food security. But since that time, China has instead increased its per person yield of key crops like cereals—the major source of calories in the Chinese diet—even as the country’s population has risen.”