No leniency on food crimes

Updated: 2014-07-23 07:49

(China Daily)

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Should Husi Food be confirmed to have supplied unsafe beef and chicken to McDonald's, KFC and other food chains, whether it eventually receives the penalty it deserves will matter a great deal to food safety control in China. The scandal will also make a difference to the amending of the Food Safety Law, which is being reviewed by lawmakers of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

An investigation by journalists found the US-funded food supplier, a unit of Illinois-based OSI Group, used beef and chicken up to seven months past the expiration date in the meat products it supplied to outlets of multinational chains. When inspectors came to check, they would put away the problematic meat.

What Husi seems to have done is no different from what the Virginia-based Peanut Corp of America did, which resulted in its being forced out of business after it was found to be the cause of a salmonella outbreak in 2009 that killed nine people and sickened hundreds in the United States.

Although no death or injury has been reported as a result of the out-of-date meat, what Husi appears to have done is severe enough to warrant prosecution of those responsible.

China's Criminal Law defines the production and selling of poisonous or unsafe food as a crime. The judicial interpretations the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate jointly released in 2013 increased the severity of penalties on crimes involved in the production and selling of problematic food. The length of time those convicted in food safety cases spend in prison has increased by more than two years on average.

While the amendment of the Food Safety Law is still under review by the top legislature, some lawmakers are calling for harsher punishments for producing and selling unsafe food.

Should they be found guilty, those at Husi Food should not get away with their harmful acts simply because it is a foreign-funded firm. Otherwise it will only encourage others to take it for granted that the cost of cutting corners is much lower in China.

The punishments meted out should serve as a warning to other food producers and sellers that the cost of putting consumers at risk by providing unsafe food is prohibitively high.

Lawmakers reviewing the amendment of the Food Safety Law should understand the message from this scandal: that China has already paid a heavy price for too lenient penalties on food safety crimes in the past decades.