During a nationwide teleconference on Monday Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged “strict market supervision and harsh penalties” to improve food safety and assure costumers that something like the melamine milk scandal will never happen again.
“Perpetrators must pay such a high price that they can not afford,” said Keqiang, according to official news outlet Xinhua. The comments come on the heels of yet another string of food-related scandals in China.
Despite several widespread crackdowns and mandating harsher sentences, including the death penalty in some cases, shocking accounts of fraud and adulteration keep cropping up on nearly a weekly basis. The latest uproar started this month when Chinese authorities busted a crime ring that sold more than $1 million of meat labeled as lamb that was actually rat, fox and mink.
The news came as the government announced that authorities had arrested 904 suspects in a recent food safety enforcement campaign; 63 of those individuals were arrested in connection to the rat meat scandal, which authorities said had been operating since 2009.
The report was supposed to assuage fears by illustrating that the government was taking action, but instead the news has sparked more outrage over the state of food safety in China.
Police in Zhejiang posted a detailed photo guide to identifying fake mutton on Sina Weibo, a micro-blogging site similar to Twitter, to help consumers identify the fraud on their own.
“All those times I went to get hotpot, turns out most of the time what I was eating was rat meat,” responded one microblogger, with a vomiting emoticon in their message, according to a report by a Wall Street Journal blogger in China.
While the rat meat scandal garnered major international news coverage for its shock value – and because it looked like it might be linked to fast food giant Yum Brands – there are lots of other food safety issues causing Chinese consumers to worry.
During their recent three month enforcement effort, Chinese authorities said they uncovered 382 cases involving just meat-related offenses and seized more than 20,000 tons (or more than 40 million pounds) of illegal products. Crimes included injecting meat with water, using illegal chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, and selling meat that was from diseased animals or altogether fake.
In the past two months, fears over H7N9 have negatively impacted poultry consumption in some areas of China, even as health authorities assure consumers cooked poultry is not a vector for influenza, and 16,000 dead pigs found in rivers near Shanghai, including one that provides drinking water to the city of more than 23 million. Local health officials assured residents that their drinking water remained safe, but social media was ablaze with concern about the water.
“The police are now focusing on crimes involving dairy products,” Chinese media reported two weeks ago. “There are some deep-seated food safety problems which have not yet been solved.”© Food Safety News