China punishes food safety criminals

Chinese authorities severely punished criminals violating food safety laws in 2011, according to new figures.

Sources with the State Council’s Food Safety Committee said on Thursday that a total ofpeople in more than 5,200 food safety cases last year were handed sentences, including life imprisonment and suspended death penalties.

Law enforcement authorities closed more than 5,000 enterprises involved in crimes that jeopardized food safety, and also gave administrative punishments to government officials for misconduct relating to the cases.

Health Minister Chen Zhu admitted during an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Wednesday that China’s food safety standards are in urgent need of improvement amid a spate of food safety scandals.

Food safety has become one of the biggest issues of concern for Chinese people since various scandals, such as tainted infant formula and cooking oil collected from sewers, were exposed by the media.

Chen said the total number of national food standards, local standards and food-producing industrial standards has topped 5,000. Among them, many overlap or contradict each other, he added, pointing to the motivation behind the Ministry of Health’s announcement last month that it will overhaul and streamline the current food standards list.

Chen noted the deficiency of some vital assessment measures, such as the lack of processes to ensure the standard of food packaging.

According to Chen, some current food standards have become outdated, calling for further efforts to implement new standards.

The Ministry of Health issued a draft on revised food standards last month to solicit public opinion up to the end of February.

The minister said the lag of research on national food standards and the country’s fledgling risk evaluation system hindered the mapping of national food standards.

Chen also attributed the falling-behind to the shortage of professional technical management organs.

The minister emphasized the importance of transparency in the forming of new standards, encouraging civilians, lawyers and experts to participate in the process.

The ministry will report the new food safety standards to the World Health Organization, Chen added.

Vice Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday called for strict and harsh punishments in cases of food safety violation. Speaking at a plenary meeting of the food safety commission under the State Council, or China’s cabinet, he urged strengthened supervision of the food industry.


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