According to Ge Zhirong, vice director of China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, the latest regulations will require producers of 13 different food products, including tea and confectionery, to apply for production licences. Some 15 different segments of the food industry, including rice, flour, edible oils, meat, dairy, instant noodles, biscuits and beverages, are already required to apply for licences.
China's food safety agency has banned over 6,000 companies from producing and marketing food products deemed to be sub-standard since the tough new rules were introduced in 2002.
The rules governing domestic producers run in tandem with those designed to assess the quality and safety of imported foodstuffs, also introduced in 2002, and operate in much the same way. Whereas the previous regulations had focused on punishing food companies found guilty of selling sub-standard products - which was scant consolation for the consumers who bought it - the new rules take a more preventative stance, attempting to stop poor quality products from hitting the market altogether.
The rules certainly seem to be working. In 2004, some 92 per cent of the five basic foodstuffs covered by the first wave of regulations - rice, flour, cooking oil, soy sauce and vinegar - was deemed to be of acceptable quality, up 31 per cent on 2001 before the rules came into force, according to a report by China Radio International.
In 2001, there were some 60,000 companies producing these five standard products, but less than 60 per cent of their output met the required standard, with the result that many of the worst offending companies went out of business following the introduction of licences, further improving the overall standards.