Source: South China Morning Post

Beijing will create a single agency to deal with food and drug regulation after recent scandals involving everything from tainted milk to recycled "gutter" oil, sources revealed.

The ministerial-level body, due to be approved within days at the annual session of the National People's Congress, will follow the example of the US Food and Drug Administration.

It will integrate regulation and law enforcement in one agency.

An official source said the plan was subject to last-minute changes and might focus on food safety only.

Despite numerous nationwide crackdowns, consumer confidence in the mainland's food and drug industry has been shattered. The current system is tangled in red tape, with up to 13 government agencies controlling food and drug regulation and supervision.

The industrial and commerce authority, for example, is responsible for packaging, while the Ministry of Health handles food safety standards.

The Ministry of Agriculture steps in if animals are involved.

Academics and food safety watchdogs have long complained that the numerous agencies create blind spots and overlaps of power that contribute to the chaos.

The State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), China's counterpart of the FDA in the US, is mainly responsible for policies and programmes on the administration of drugs, health food, medical devices and cosmetics.

When founded in 2003, it was a ministerial-level agency directly under the State Council and meant to have greater power.

But it was downgraded and affiliated to the Ministry of Health in 2008 after a series of corruption scandals involving several SFDA officials. These included its head Zheng Xiaoyu , who was convicted and executed for taking bribes and dereliction of duty.

A source familiar with the plan said: "It was already on the agenda of the State Council to integrate the food and drug safety departments under different government agencies after the melamine-tainted milk scandal in 2008, when at least six children were killed and 300,000 sickened with kidney diseases."

But the restructuring deadline was missed and the State Council was able to establish only a food safety commission in 2010.

The commission, headed by premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang, two other deputy premiers and a dozen ministerial-level officials, was considered a temporary move to make food safety operations run more smoothly.

The source said the backing of President Hu Jintao for "reforming and improving the food and drug safety supervision mechanism" in the 18th Party Congress Report in November gave the green light to the plan.

At a meeting of the food safety commission last month, Li hinted that red tape would be cut and powers integrated.