China has said its aim this year on food safety is to avoid any major contamination crises as it continues to struggle to impose national standards on food producers and processors.
Announcing the latest in a string of safety initiatives, a leading government official said it would intensify scrutiny on the food supply chain in a bid to prevent or catch tainted products reaching food processors.
Vice Minister of Agriculture Wei Chao'an said this week that agricultural officials at all levels are working this year "to prevent any large-scale food safety crises” by clamping down on thousands of farms – particularly those involved in the production of dairy products.
Assurances from Chinese authorities that it had improved its food safety system after the introduction of a new law last summer and the formation of a number of new committees have been undermined by the continuing appearance of melamine-tainted products in recent months. The dairy products, contaminated with the industrial chemical, were left over from the 2008 scandal that killed six and sickened 300,000.
Wei said China was working to bring more farms under better supervision, a challenge in a vast country where some rural areas are still very poor.
"Our agricultural products overall are safe and of high quality, but we must also recognize that while we transition from traditional to modern farming, many of our operations remain scattered, production methods are still backward and our supervision lags behind," he added.
A government statement issued this week promised to "implement quality and safety monitoring programs targeting raw and fresh milk, and strengthen supervision of purchase stations for raw and fresh milk." It also vowed to release national quality standards for dairy products this year.
Officials also mentioned an incident in late February, when the southern Hainan Province took emergency measures to stop toxic cow peas from entering the market after about 3.5 tonnes of cow peas found were tainted with a poisonous pesticide.
”To prevent such incidents and help ensure food safety, the country plans to increase the frequency of food tests and inspections - especially for dairy products and other high-risk food,” said the official statement.