China likely to set up single regulator for food and drugs: report

HONGKONG (REUTERS) - China is likely to set up a single watchdog for food safety and pharmaceuticals, streamlining a complex regulatory system that has seen a series of scandals over food contamination and fake medicines, the South China Morning Post said on Monday.

The ministerial-level body is due to be approved at the annual session of the National People's Congress, which begins on Tuesday, and will replace a system comprising up to 13 government agencies, the newspaper said, likening the new body to the US Food and Drug Administration.

Academics and food safety experts complain that the multiple agencies create blind spots and overlaps that contribute to a lack of consumer confidence in mainland China's food and drug industry, despite some well-publicised nationwide crackdown on problems such as tainted milk and counterfeit drugs.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying the plan for a single regulator was subject to last-minute changes and might end up focusing on food safety only.

China's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) is mainly responsible for policies and programmes on the administration of drugs, health food, medical devices and cosmetics, while the Health Ministry mainly handles food safety and other agencies look after packaging and animal health, the newspaper said.

The SFDA was founded in 2003 as a ministerial-level agency directly under the State Council but was downgraded and affiliated to the Ministry of Health in 2008 after a series of corruption scandals involving several SFDA officials, it added.