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China Passes New Food Safety Law

China has passed a new law creating a national food safety commission. The Chinese congress approved the new legislation Saturday. The law, which comes in the wake of a series of tainted food scandals, aims to tighten supervision and increase penalties for offenders.

Under the new legislation, consumers can get financial compensation of up to 10 times the price of the product, in addition to compensation for any harm caused by tainted food. The law also bans food safety supervision agencies from advertising food products, and individuals including celebrities who advertise for a substandard product would also be liable for damages.

The new law was passed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee Saturday, winning 158 out of 165 votes. It replaces a food hygiene law passed in 1995.

Legislators say they reviewed four drafts and considered 10,000 public comments before finalizing the law, in an effort to restore consumer confidence.

According to China's Ministry of Health, the country's food-security situation appears grim.

China saw several tainted food product scandals in the last year, including milk spiked with the chemical melamine that sickened 300,000 children and killed six babies.

Several dairy industry executives and milk suppliers have already been sentenced by the courts, yet consumer doubt remains high. Complaints were also lodged against some imported dairy products, including Dumex brand milk powder, whose raw materials come from Australia and New Zealand.

Yet Deputy Health Minister Chen Xiaohong was optimistic as he spoke about the prospect of a new state-level food safety commission.

Deputy Minister Chen says China's departments of health, agriculture, quality supervision, industry and commerce administration will all share the responsibilities of monitoring the country's food supply.

At Monday's State Council news conference, Li Yuanping, spokesman of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, told reporters the inspection of imported and exported dairy products has intensified since the milk scandal broke in September.

Spokesman Li said samples of Dumex dairy products were all inspected and met temporary standards for melamine content.

Domestically, China has 450,000 registered food production and processing enterprises, but the vast majority of them employ just 10 people or less. A U.N. report last year said the challenge of overseeing these small businesses is one of China's biggest hurdles in ensuring food safety.