Lawmakers in Beijing are considering amending the law on food safety that promises tougher rules on food production, sales and supervision.
This will be the first time the Food Safety Law has been amended since it was hurriedly enacted in 2009 amid one of the country's most notorious food safety scandals, when melamine-tainted milk killed at least six children and sickened 300,000 others.
"The amendment increases penalties for offenders, and compensation for their victims," said Liu Junhai, a Renmin University law professor who helped draft the amend ment.
Zhang Yong, head of the food and drug administration, said food safety had been improving but "the situation remains severe". The existing regulatory system is not effective, penalties are too lax and do not serve as a deterrent, Xinhua reported.
"The amendment will impose the harshest civil, administrative and criminal penalties on offenders and toughest punishment on supervisors who neglect their duties," Xinhua quoted Zhang as saying. Zhang presented the proposed amendment to lawmakers at the bi-monthly session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, which ends on Friday.
The proposed amendment increases the number of articles by 50 per cent and proposes food manufacturers or operators who add chemicals other than approved food additives have their licences revoked and face fines of up to 30 times of the product value, up from 10 times.
Instead of being compensated for 10 times the price of an offending product, the amendment proposes that consumers be compensated three times the financial losses incurred as a result of food-related problems.
Employees engaged in testing services who present false reports that result in major food safety incidents, or engaged in related crimes, will face lifetime bans from such work.
"This is great improvement and very necessary," said Fan Zhihong , associate professor at the China Agricultural University's College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering. "It will deter anyone from providing false test results given the high price offenders will pay."
Fan said the law had already achieved good results by imposing harsh penalties. Heads of local governments and other officials directly in charge will also be held accountable under the amendment. Those who fail to investigate, delay reporting or cover up food safety incidents will be sacked. Those caught abusing their power, neglecting their duties for personal gain or found responsible for food safety cover-ups will face criminal charges.
According to the Ministry of Public Security, police prosecuted more than 52,000 food safety cases in the past three years. Media also revealed such shoddy practices as feeding pigs the asthma drug clenbuterol to produce lean meat, recycling cokking oil and passing off fox meat as mutton or beef, among others.