Police arrest 904 over meat scandal in China

Police in China have arrested 904 people for selling fake, spoiled, or adulterated meat over the past three months.

Suspects sold meat that had been injected with water to increase its weight, or sold rat and fox meat as mutton.

State media portrayed the arrests as part of a national crackdown that will now focus on dairy products.

Xinhua News Agency said a total of 382 cases were uncovered and 20,000 tons of unsafe meat seized from January.

China’s past food safety problems have included infant formula consisting of nothing more than starch and the recycling of household waste as cooking oil.

China’s top court has issued guidelines calling for harsher punishment for making and selling unsafe food products.

The Supreme People’s Court said today that the guidelines will list as crimes specific acts such as the sale of food excessively laced with chemicals or made from animals that have died from disease or unknown causes.

China’s penal code, which forbids unsafe and poisonous food, does not specify what acts are considered in violation of the law.

“We hope this explanation will be a strong tool for police and judicial authorities,” Pei Xianding, a supreme court judge, told a news conference.

Adulterating baby food so that it severely lacks nutrition is also punishable as a crime under the guidelines. Negligent government food inspectors are also targeted for criminal punishment.

Despite years of food scandals – from milk contaminated with an industrial chemical to the use of industrial dyes in eggs – China has been unable to clean up its food supply chain.

Li Fangping, a Beijing lawyer who represented victims of the tainted milk scandal, said the guidelines are more of a political statement than a judicial document, as existing laws can sufficiently address food safety violations. “It is a policy declaration,” Li said. “It is a response to the widespread public dissatisfaction.”

The supreme court said 2,088 people have been prosecuted in 2010-2012 in 1,533 food safety cases.

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