[BEIJING] China has approved legislation to make celebrities who advertise a food product that is later found to be substandard liable for damages.
The ruling, with details on potential punishments still under discussion, is part of a raft of new regulations in the new food safety law passed by the cabinet last month (28 February) after a series of food scandals.
The legislation, effective from 1 June, has prompted television presenter Ni Ping, a household name in China, to say she will stop advertising food brands.
"I won't advertise for any food product any more," Ni told press at a session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's political advisory body, of which Ni is a member.
She has been widely criticised for advertising chestnut juice — found to be good quality — produced by the Sanlu Group, which went bankrupt after producing baby formula milk containing melamine that killed six babies and made 300,000 others ill.
Chen Daoming, a Chinese actor who has advertised many brands, says he understands Ni's reaction, which responds more to "the unjustified criticism she has received than to the new regulation".
Chen believes the law is good for consumers but may also benefit celebrities and food producers. "Once in place, such regulations will remind each party of their respective responsibility when there are incidents related to the advertised [product]."
Repeated food safety incidents have compelled China to overhaul its food monitoring system. Under the new law a national commission to oversee how the rules are implemented will be established.
Luo Yunbo, dean of the Food Science and Nutritional Engineering College at China Agriculture University in Beijing, says he considered the food safety commission the most important progress.
Currently, China uses two sets of compulsory food standards — one for food hygiene, issued by the Ministry of Health, and the other for food quality, issued by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
The two sets of standards sometimes contradict each other causing confusion among supervisors and producers, says Luo. "The commission is expected to improve coordination and eliminate loopholes," he told SciDev.Net.