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Food safety prioritized to end pandemic
By:Xinhua
update:October 27,2020

Customs officers check imported food on a ship in Rongcheng, Shandong province, on Oct 7. (Photo by LIN HAIZHEN/FOR CHINA DAILY)
 
Authorities roll out measures to prevent transmission of disease via imported goods
 
Oct.27,2020 -- China, which is committed to ensuring food safety, has redoubled its efforts to bring safe and healthy food to dining tables across the country amid the global COVID-19 outbreak. To that end, the country has been rolling out measures to improve supervision of imported and home-produced food.
 
As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, cluster outbreaks have been reported in a number of food-processing enterprises overseas, bringing cold chain products under close scrutiny by Chinese authorities.
 
In a move to prevent possible virus transmission via imported food, the customs authority in July halted imports from three shrimp producers in Ecuador.
 
The authority ordered frozen products from the companies to be returned or destroyed after samples from the inner wall of a container and the products' outer packaging tested positive for the virus.
 
Though the test results didn't mean the virus could infect people via food, they exposed loopholes in the companies' food safety regulations, said Bi Kexin, head of the Import and Export Food Safety Bureau at the General Administration of Customs.
 
Li Ning, a researcher with the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, said food has a low transmission risk, but there was a possibility of transmission if the processing environment was contaminated or workers were infected.
 
Regarding food safety as an important task for the country and authorities at all levels, the government has called for the strongest measures, the most rigorous standards, the strictest supervision, the severest punishments for violators and the most effective system of accountability.
 
Faced with a rising number of COVID-19 cases globally, the task of ensuring farm-to-fork food safety entails comprehensive containment measures.
 
As a result, China has been stepping up efforts to keep a close eye on imported food and food-related industries at home.


Officers from a local market supervision authority inspect seafood at a supermarket in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, in July, 2020. [Photo by WANG CHUN/FOR CHINA DAILY]
 
Inspections intensified
 
To cut off overseas virus transmission channels, China has intensified inspection and testing of imported food in the cold chain.
 
As of Sept 15, the General Administration of Customs had suspended imports from 56 cold chain food companies overseas.
 
Mechanisms to facilitate coordination and information sharing have also been put in place, while food retailers have been ordered to take steps as soon as a problem is spotted.
 
"Whether it is imported or home-produced, food sold in the domestic market should be strictly supervised according to the law," said Dang Qianying, an official with the State Administration for Market Regulation.
 
Meanwhile, Li Xingqian, director of the Foreign Trade Department at the Ministry of Commerce, said China's inspection of imported food is in line with international standards and regulations.
 
He stressed that food businesses should observe all new guidelines issued by the World Health Organization and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
 
The steps are aimed at protecting people's health, Li Xingqian said, adding that the cluster of COVID-19 cases in Beijing in June sparked concerns over the risk of the virus being transmitted by imported refrigerated food.
 
Despite stricter food supervision and inspection, China will remain committed to expanding imports, and promoting agricultural trade has always been an integral part of the country's opening-up policy, Li Xingqian said.
 
Official data show that food and agricultural imports have grown rapidly this year, despite disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the January to May period, imports of agricultural products rose 9 percent year-on-year, 17 percentage points higher than the country's total imports during the same period.
 
Bi, from the import and export food safety bureau, said China welcomes safe, quality food from all over the world, and stands ready to undertake in-depth cooperation with other countries to promote food safety and the healthy development of the global food trade.


Retailers deliver vegetables to residents undergoing community quarantine after the novel coronavirus was detected at a seafood processing plant in Dalian, Liaoning province, in July, 2020. [Photo by LYU WENZHENG/FOR CHINA DAILY]
 
Reducing risks
 
As food safety supervision concerns every member of China's population of 1.4 billion and people's health and lives, authorities at all levels have prioritized food safety in public health and are urging greater efforts to reduce all risks.
 
In response to COVID-19, the country has banned the illegal trade in wildlife and the consumption of such animals, and has tightened supervision of the food industry, covering employees, the environment and logistics. In July, authorities announced the gradual closure of all live poultry markets.
 
People in the food industry are the focus of antivirus efforts. In the wake of the June outbreak at the Xinfadi wholesale market in Beijing, authorities started large-scale nucleic acid testing of workers in farmers' markets and the catering and delivery industries to stem virus transmission via food-related business activities.
 
Given that food delivery workers tend to be exposed to people frequently and therefore face higher health risks, the country has specifically issued antivirus guidelines ordering workers to maintain social distancing of at least 1 meter, use contactless delivery and place different foods in separate areas.
 
Supervision of the food market has been intensified across the country, especially in places with large populations.
 
COVID-19 prevention inspections have been conducted in the southern province of Guangdong, an economic powerhouse, covering local farmers' markets, supermarkets and retail and wholesale markets for aquatic products.
 
Cold chain food logistics have also come under the spotlight. To regulate the sector, China has implemented a national regulation outlining compulsory requirements for all links in cold chain food, including production, processing, transportation and sales.


Customs officers check a sample of novel coronavirus test reagent at Luogang Customs in South China's Guangdong province. [Photo/China News Service]
 
Greater supervision
 
While employing the toughest measures to prevent food safety issues at source, supervise all links and control risks, China in 2016 pledged to establish a more unified, authoritative supervision system.
 
Last year, the country issued a guideline that aimed to tighten food safety supervision "from farmland to the dining table" and further build up capacities to ensure whole-chain food safety and quality.
 
According to the guideline, the country will establish a preliminary food safety supervision system based on risk control and supply management that will be capable of basically bringing major food risks under control.
 
It will also raise food safety conditions to a level commensurate with the goal of finishing the task of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by the end of the year.

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