China's Social Co-regulation: A Principle as Adopted in the New Food Safety Law

Posted By: Selerant RSA

Article by Dr. Pinghui Xiao, Postdoctoral Researcher at Institute of Executive Development, China Food and Drug Administration.

In 2013, Communist Party of China (CPC) held the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee at Beijing and the Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms was adopted, which articulated that the country will build a strict supervisory system covering food and drug safety. To this end, a traceability system will be created for food production and quality labeling. The Decision also states that the country will set up a public security system and food safety is part of that system. It calls for an innovation of social governance to create a mechanism that can effectively prevent social unrest. Ultimately, China shall establish the most strict food regulatory system. The so-called social governance is to recognize that not only public bodies like government but also social organizations (e.g., consumer groups, NPOs and like institutions) and individuals can participate in regulation. Both public and private institutions should have joint responsibilities over social affairs like food safety affecting the public.

Then the new Food Safety Law as adopted in 2015 by embracing the idea of social governance as shown in the 2013 CPC’s Decision adopted introduced the so-called social co-regulation. Among the four key principles as adopted in the new Law (the other three are Prioritized Prevention, Risk Management, Full-Food-Chain Control) is social co-regulation, which has the following implications,

  • Different food agencies need to have closer cooperation to regulate food safety so a mechanism to improve inter-departmental collaboration should be established;
  • The food businesses (food producers, food retailer, catering services and so on) have the primary responsibility for food safety and food safety can be ensured through better regulation;
  • Chinese government has realized that it alone cannot regulate food safety well and therefore, food safety regulation is a shared responsibility – shared among a range of social stakeholders like food producers, public agencies, consumers, media, and the like; and
  • Social stakeholders can be strong forces for food safety.

To this end, the Law established a few provisions to substantialize the social co-regulation.

For instance, as for government, Article 6 stipulates that County-level government will have to be responsible for the food safety in its jurisdiction. It should establish a full chain regulatory mechanism and ensure information share and better communication. Regarding private businesses, Article 4 says that food business operators should ensure industry compliance with relevant laws, regulations, and standards. Food businesses have to be self regulated and shoulder social responsibilities. In terms of involvement of social stakeholders, Article 10 recognizes media can be an important channel to raise public awareness of food safety laws, regulations and standards. Media supervision can also help curb food safety scandals. In addition, the Law calls for whistleblowing. Article 12 articulates that any organization and anybody can inform the food agencies of violations of food safety and according to Article 115, the food agencies will pay money to people who blow the whistle and those whistleblowers will be protected from retaliation. Last but not least, Article 23 stresses that risk communication is a tool and platform for all relevant participants of food safety co-regulation to keep informed.  

All in all, public regulation as conducted by government should be in partnership with private regulation as done by food businesses and other social players like media, services providers, individuals and so on. China now highly recognizes a co-regulation and social governance which embraces the idea of collaboration between public and private stakeholders for its food safety governance.