Officials failing to halt food scandals

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 April, 2011, 12:00am


Despite repeated calls for a crackdown on toxic additives in food, the mainland has been hit by scandals almost every day in the past week, from rotten meat and fertiliser pork sausages to soy sauce made with unpurified industrial salt.

Samples from various sauces produced in places including Beijing, Shanghai and Shandong recently found 11 had traces of arsenic and high levels of bacteria, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said on its website yesterday.

The State Council launched an intensified campaign last week, triggered by high-profile reports of steamed buns made from recycled out-of-date buns and clenbuterol-tainted pork.

In Guangzhou on Tuesday, inspectors found that a small workshop made pork sausages by mixing rotten meat and fertiliser, the Southern Daily reported yesterday. About three tonnes of the pork was found. The people behind the scheme said customers included major mainland food markets and supermarkets.

Another manufacturer in Guangzhou was caught making soy sauce using unpurified salt meant for industrial use and pigments. Workers at the filthy workshop, which was operating without business or hygiene licences, put fake logos of famous brands on their packaging, the newspaper reported.

Two food poisoning cases in Hunan and Shaanxi provinces over the weekend saw more than 500 people treated in hospitals. In Shaanxi, 250 primary school pupils in Yulin became ill after drinking Mengniu brand milk on Friday morning, the Sanqin Metropolis News reported. The city government later said the milk met national standards, but did not say what caused the pupils to be sick. In Hunan, 286 people are suspected to have eaten clenbuterol-tainted pork, the China Daily reported on Tuesday.

Prosecutors in Foshan, Guangdong, said on Tuesday that a man had been arrested for soaking pork in a mix of borax and soy powder to make it resemble more expensive beef, the Guangzhou Daily said yesterday. He admitted selling 16 tonnes of fake beef for 240,000 yuan (HK$292,000). In Zhongshan, Guangdong, last week, authorities raided a former pigsty and found tonnes of fake sweet potato noodle made with corn, ink and paraffin and sold as a delicacy. Provincial leaders vowed on Tuesday to punish those responsible 'seriously' and said they would apply lessons learned to the ongoing crackdown, the Southern Metropolis News said.

In Chongqing, police discovered on Tuesday that an ice-cream firm bought 26 tonnes of melamine-tainted milk powder. In Beijing, paper boxes for popcorn sold in cinemas were found to contain a high level of fluorescent bleach.

Professor Li Duo, a food safety and nutrition specialist at Zhejiang University, said the latest incidents demonstrated the official inertia in supervising the food industry.

'Officials have always been announcing plans to clamp down on illegal food production activities,' he said. 'But why have they failed to control it and why are the scandals appearing so frequently? The main reason is that the punishment is too light for businessmen who break the law and officials guilty of dereliction of duty.'

The National Food Safety Law, implemented in June 2009, capped financial penalties at 10 times the value of products seized, with serious cases leading to the loss of licences.

In September last year the punishment was increased to the death sentence. But Li said clauses in the new rule were still vague and did not specify the punishment for officials.

'China should learn from developed countries and impose harsh punishment, including forcing people with serious wrongdoing into bankruptcy and banning them forever from this industry,' Li said.

On Sunday, the State Council issued a blacklist of chemical materials that should not be added to food.