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China says food safety situation still grim

China's food safety situation is still grim although some improvements have been made in the wake of a scandal last year that killed at least six babies and made another 300,000 sick, the Health Ministry said on Monday.

world Updated: Mar 02, 2009 10:02 IST

China's food safety situation is still grim although some improvements have been made in the wake of a scandal last year that killed at least six babies and made another 300,000 sick, the Health Ministry said on Monday.

The comments from the ministry come after China's legislature enacted a tough food safety law on Saturday, promising tougher penalties for makers of tainted products in the wake of scandals that exposed serious flaws in monitoring of the nation's food supply.

"At present, China's food security situation remains grim, with high risks and contradictions popping out," the ministry said in a news release, adding that it cannot afford "even the slightest relaxation over supervision."

The law, which was five years in the making, consolidates hundreds of disparate regulations and standards covering China's 500,000 food processing companies. It pays special attention to the issue of food additives that lay at the heart of last year's scandal involving infant formula produced by the Sanlu dairy and other companies.

No additives will be allowed unless they can be proven both necessary and safe, according to the law, which goes into effect on June 1.

China's government has been trying to restore confidence in the country's food supply ever since revelations in September that formula was contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine. The tainted milk is blamed for the deaths and illnesses in the babies. Previously, China's regulatory system had come under scrutiny after exports of pet food ingredients killed and sickened pets in North and South America. The chemical in the dangerous pet food was the same as in the milk scandal _ melamine.

China's current system of splitting food safety responsibilities among many different agencies has resulted in uneven enforcement and confusion, the UN said in a report late last year.