China's FDA, MPS To Form A New Unit Dubbed The 'Food Police'

Last week's joint announcement by the Chinese FDA (CFDA) and the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the police unit in China, that both entities are creating a special police unit for food and drug law violations has caused quite a stir for food-safety watch groups with their eyes on China.

The special unit of MPS will work with CFDA to investigate violations, increase enforcement via the criminal law, rather than imposing fines. It is not entirely clear whether this new unit will be an independent agency or part of the MPS or CFDA, but the challenge is acquiring more specialized personnel with the technical and regulatory knowledge necessary to detect violations of food and drug law.

This article in Forbes raises the question of whether this new unit is necessary and, more importantly, a good idea. The reaction seems to be mixed. Some say anything that makes food safer is a good thing.  While others, including noted food law expert, Professor Gao Qinwei of Beijing’s Central University of Finance and Economics, say that this could lead to duplicative regulation in this area. Duplicative regulation and agency turf wars are some of things that the consolidation of responsibilities from other agencies into the newly created CFDA in 2013 was meant to guard against. 

Increased use of the criminal law to regulate food and drug safety issues is not new in China. Since the criminal law amendment calling for tougher penalties for those who produce fake or substandard food in 2011, the number of prosecutions has increased significantly. 

Ultimately we can hope for the day when none of this debate is necessary and we are talking more in terms of CFDA warnings that lead to fast resolution of the problems between CFDA and industry, rather than a docket full of criminal cases. Getting there is the hard part.

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