From farm to chopsticks: Improving food safety in China

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A challenge for Chinese businesses is to re-capture the vast domestic market owing to the recent food scares that have seriously undermined the domestic brands.

After several high-profile food safety incidents, according to one recent survey, around 64% of Chinese consider food safety as the number one priority that affects their daily lives and requires immediate action by the government.

The Chinese government is taking these concerns very seriously and has launched important reforms in its system of food control. It promulgated a new Food Safety Law in 2009, and created a new food safety authority in 2013 to deal with these issues. These reforms are now rolling out to provincial and local levels. These reforms will eventually affect more than one million state officials, restructure more than a dozen government ministries, and revise more than 5,000 regulations. The reforms will result in a complete overhaul of the food control system and introduction of new global best practice policies for food safety.

A joint World Bank and IFC team, which I’m part of, has been working with authorities and industry in China to improve food safety in the world’s most populous country. Over the last two weeks of March, the World Bank Group developed a workplan for a comprehensive food safety capacity building needs assessment, which would serve as the integral diagnostic work to support the identification of a set of major investments for strengthening the food safety system in China. The effort was also supported by the Global Food Safety Partnership—a World Bank-hosted public-private partnership that aims to improve food safety capacity around the world.

Also in March, the World Bank Group co-organized with the China National Food Safety Risk Assessment Center, WHO, and FAO an International Symposium for Food Safety Standards and Risk Management held in Beijing.

The Symposium brought together over 300 high level officials from all over China and the international community, who came to discuss the matters of food safety and how to respond to the new policies of the government.

“Food safety is everyone’s responsibility”, said Juergen Voegele, Director of the Agriculture and Environmental Services Department of the World Bank, in his keynote address at the symposium. “Both industry and the public sector must ensure that the food supply chain is safe—from farm to chopsticks.”

Food safety is clearly linked to public health with greater impact on the poor. Food also plays a critical role in developing markets. A challenge for Chinese businesses is to re-capture the vast domestic market owing to the recent food scares that have seriously undermined the domestic brands. In addition, adopting global best practices would enable China to maintain or expand international markets.

”While the modern food safety systems around the world put increasing emphasis on industry’s responsibility for food safety, the uniqueness of China requires the joint responsibility—both industry and government,” said Voegele. “Nevertheless, governments do not produce food, but farmers and companies do. Governments have a role in ensuring that food safety policies and standards are able to protect consumers from foodborne illnesses. Therefore, we must work both with the government and with the industry to support China’s effort for improving food safety.”

“Food safety is one of the entry points for us to work together addressing global challenges,” said Klaus Rohland, World Bank Country Director for China.

In China, we’re bringing together years of experience in addressing food safety issues at both the government policy and industry value chain levels, including:

  • Reforming food safety systems
  • Harmonizing food safety legislation with international requirements
  • Building the capacity of food safety inspectors to conduct risk based inspections
  • Demonstrating pilots to reduce the burden on the industry caused by ineffective food safety regulations and
  • Facilitating exports and encouraging industry compliance with food safety standards through regulatory solutions.
By mobilizing global knowledge and expertise, we hope to help China improve its food safety—from farm to chopsticks.


Garo Batmanian

Lead Environment Specialist

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