The Supreme People's Court says it is ready to hand down death sentences to serious offenders in 'gutter oil' cases in a bid to crack down on the rampant use of recycled cooking oil by restaurants and food processors.
A notice issued jointly by the top court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security on Thursday said the authorities would intensify the crackdown on the production, sale and use of gutter oil.
'Courts must give full consideration to suspects' malignancy, the amount of money involved and the harm done to the public and the market when ruling in gutter oil cases. For those deserving death, death penalties must be resolutely given,' the notice said.
Harsh punishment should also be given to officials who failed to check the menace, it said.
The mainland launched a nationwide campaign last year to clamp down on the illegal manufacture and sale of gutter oil- often recycled from restaurant leftovers.
Xinhua said 134 people were arrested for producing and selling gutter oil in Shandong last year. Nineteen have been prosecuted so far, with 12 government officials fired for negligence.
In one case, two people were jailed for 10 years for producing and selling more than 110 tonnes of gutter oil.
The central government started a research effort last year to come up with standards for identifying gutter oil, but creating a precise definition that can be applied to a substance that often contains a variety of chemicals has proven difficult.
Under the latest notice, if a person knowingly uses cooking oil from a suspicious source and it is later found to contain harmful substances, the authorities could deem the offender liable for producing unsafe food products, regardless of whether the authorities could prove that the oil used was gutter oil, Xinhua reported.
Academics have questioned whether the joint notice went against the spirit of legal reforms designed to reduce the number of executions on the mainland. 'It runs contrary to the current legal reforms, where fewer prisoners are executed,' said Mao Shoulong, a professor of public policy at Renmin University. Mao likened the move to appeasement following recent food safety scares.