China said on Monday food security remains "grim" after a series of health scandals, the most recent being last year's tainted milk formula which killed at least six toddlers and made almost 300 000 sick.
A new food-safety law, newly approved in an accelerated process since the milk scandal came to light in September, attempts to fix a fragmentary regulatory system which officials blame for recurring problems.
"At present, China's food-security situation remains grim with high risks and contradictions," the Ministry of Health said in a statement.
Formal quality standards
The food-safety law, which takes effect on June 1, sets quality and safety standards for products, and lays out a regulatory system as well as a risk-monitoring system.
China approved in principle a new food-safety law in October 2007 following scandals involving unsafe toothpaste, seafood and pet food, among other products.
Nonetheless, the children developed kidney stones after melamine, an industrial compound used in making plastics and fertiliser, was added to milk and other products to cheat protein tests, prompting Chinese-made products to be stripped from shelves worldwide.
A month later, the World Health Organisation's food safety chief, Jorgen Schlundt, called China's food-safety system "disjointed", and said poor communications between ministries and agencies may have prolonged the melamine poisonings.
Two sentenced to death
China sentenced two people to death in January for producing or selling milk adulterated with melamine, and jailed the chairwoman of now bankrupt dairy producer Sanlu Group for life, but the fall-out from the scandal continues.
A group of 54 people who say their children developed kidney stones and other illnesses after drinking melamine-adulterated milk are suing Qingdao Shengyuan Dairy Co Ltd for 8 million yuan (R12.4 million) in damages, Li Jinglin, their lawyer, told Reuters.
It was unclear whether the court in the eastern city of Qingdao would accept the case. Calls placed to the court could not be connected.
Parents' groups had earlier targeted two other foreign milk formula manufacturers, both of which were cleared by Chinese authorities of any unsafe additives.
More than 90% of the melamine victims' families have taken state-backed compensation, state media reported in January, citing the China Dairy Industry Association, but local courts have so far refused to accept lawsuits filed by parents who have refused to accept the pay-out. – (Reuters Health, March 2009)
Milk crisis shows lack of control
Melamine infants still sick