Capital airs life ban for breaches of food safety law

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2012, 12:00am


Beijing plans to ban people convicted of food-safety crimes from investing in or operating food businesses. It is one of several proposed amendments to toughen city laws.

Draft changes to food-safety regulations posted on the city government website for public comment until April 25 also include new measures to deal with problem foods, the addition of illegal substances to food and to prevent used cooking oil being recycled for human consumption.

The draft extends from three years to five years the ban on people whose licence to operate a food business is revoked from re-entering the industry. And it proposed people convicted of food safety crimes be banned from the industry for life. At present they are only banned from being in charge of, or the legal representative of, a food business.

The proposed toughening of the regulations show the government's determination to crack down on illegal practices in the food industry, whose notorious reputation, following a string of scandals, has angered the public and is seen by the authorities as a threat to social stability.

In 2008 six babies were revealed to have died and 300,000 others to have suffered kidney ailments as a result of the dairy industry's adulteration of raw milk with melamine, an industrial chemical, to allow poor-quality milk to pass protein content tests. The milk was used to make infant formula.

While this was the biggest such scandal of recent years, it was far from the only one. To mention just a few, buns past their use-by date have had industrial dye added to them to make them appear fresh; clenbuterol, an anti-asthma drug, has been fed to pigs to produce leaner meat; and sweet potato flour has been made from corn, ink and paraffin.

Last month more than 100 people were detained in four provinces on suspicion of producing cooking oil from rotten meat and animal organs. In September police arrested at least 32 people for producing 'gutter oil' - waste oil from restaurants resold as cooking oil - and seized more than 100 tonnes of the oil. Beijing's new rules would prohibit the collection or transport of waste oil from restaurants without a licence. Businesses which broke the rule would face fines of up to 50,000 yuan; serious offenders could be shut down.

The draft also empowers food business operators to destroy food that is inedible, contains toxic substances, is of poor quality or past its use-by date, rather than returning the supplies to their manufacturers. This is to stop operators from sneaking them back into the market. Milk adulterated with melamine, which should have been destroyed, has been sold back to dairy farms for mixing with normal milk powder, and buns have been adulterated with industrial dye and stamped with a new use-by date.