Chinese Food Safety Law Sets High Bar for Food Companies and Communications Professionals

May 26, 2009

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Li Hong
by Li Hong

The Food Safety Law of China is scheduled to go into effect on June 1, 2009. For the first time in Chinese legal history, the new Law specifically states that food companies are the first party of responsibility in the food safety chain, unequivocally stipulating that strict compliance with the law is the top priority for any company in the food and food additives industries.

The Law sets the bar a lot higher and has stricter requirements for food companies operating inside China and for imported food and additives.

Li Hong

The Law reduces the number of regulating ministries from ten to five which will be charged with ensuring the nation’s food safety: the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine and State Food and Drug Administration, each regulating and supervising the production and distribution in the food safety chain based on the responsibilities as stipulated by the law.

Recognizing that the new Law is to set forth changes to the entire food industry is imperative for food companies in honoring their commitment to the consuming public. A comprehensive knowledge of and full compliance with the Law should become an integral part of the growth strategy of any company. To that end, it should become an important component of companies’ corporate social responsibility, crisis prevention and management, consumer and internal communications programs.

How a business enforces food safety through analysis of policy and regulatory regime in view of what it produces plays a crucial role with regards to its strategic planning in legal affairs, public affairs, brand communications, marketing as well as corporate social responsibility as well as crisis communications and management.

In times of food safety crises, media collectively takes on the role of information disseminator and communicator. At no time in history, it is more difficult to manage information than it is today. With the help of the Internet, people learn about food safety incidents around the globe at the speed of light and become concerned consumers.

Solutions to crisis prevention and management as well as brand recovery, first and foremost, depends on the nature of crisis itself, which is to say that we need to have a distinct understanding of the severity of the occurrence and development of the expected crisis from three perspectives: legislations, enforcement and management.

Given the fact that food safety issues involve highly technical information, with complex communications channels and highly specialized target institutions, a food business has a lot to benefit if it starts to accumulate experiences through the assistance of a communications consulting firm in the above-mentioned areas at the earliest possible stage in such instances as the latest technical breakthroughs related to its products, the latest technological innovations and applications, including technical information on production, manufacturing and sales as well as business intelligence of its competitors. Similarly, a business also should identify and work with key opinion leaders, including opinion leaders with different line of thinking, public interest groups and NGOs on new policy and management issues.

The key to food safety or, in other words, the solution to food safety problems rests on the clear understanding of food safety policies, legal and regulatory environment as well as management structure on the part of domestic and global food companies. Every food company operating in China will have to comprehend policies on food and food products by central and local governments while at the same time clear understanding of central, local and business standards will have to be in place.

Since Food Safety has become a global issue, as global as Col. John T. Hoffman has said “You can’t buy a hamburger without touching the global system,” Chinese companies must do the same things for markets outside China. And Food production and trade has increasingly triggered global events and incidents. The increasing inter-dependence on agricultural products and food trade has resulted in numerous frictions among countries due to food safety problems, and more frequently.

When food safety crisis occurs, strategic crisis management and execution which aims to provide solutions to the crisis should be formulated in accordance with the understanding of the laws and regulations, government policies and management environment. Distinct understanding has to be clearly defined with regard to the target audiences-government agencies, industry experts, opinion leaders, consumers and the media-in terms of what to communicate with them, with whom to communicate and in what way. We can be confident of the food safety and crisis management programs of a food company only when the company accomplished both.

For more of Mr. Li Hong’s points of view on food safety and crisis prevention and crises communications and his speech at a recent international Food Safety Roundtable in Beijing, click here.