Just how unsafe is food in China? Over the past three months, Chinese police have arrested more than 900 people for selling fake or tainted meat, including a criminal ring that processed meat from rat and fox and sold it as mutton. Public outrage had hardly died down when another food scandal broke out on Sunday. Three people in the southeastern province of Fujian were arrested for processing pigs that had died of infectious diseases and selling about 40 metric tons of the inedible pork to various restaurants in central and southern China, according to the state-run China Daily. It quotes the Strait Metropolis Daily, a Fujian newspaper, which reports that two of the suspects are farmers initially hired by a county government to safely dispose of the pig carcasses.
According to the state-run Global Times, in August 44-year-old Lin started selling the meat processed from dead pigs that she picked up from roadsides or got from local farmers for less than a dollar a kilogram. Her colleague, a 33-year-old man surnamed Wu, joined the business after he saw how much money Lin was making. Before the pair were detained in March, they had established a business worth almost half a million dollars. Police arrested the two, along with a driver they hired to transport the meat, at a warehouse they built to store the “mountains” of pig carcasses, noted the Strait Metropolis Daily.
Police are still compiling a complete list of the suspects’ clients, reported the China Daily, which alleges that Lin and Wu sold the problematic pork to meat processors in Guangdong, Jiangxi and Hunan provinces. Bloggers on China’s Twitter-like social-media service Sina Weibo lamented that it was not safe to eat any meat in the mainland. Some said the culprits should be punished by the death penalty.
In response to the high-profile food scandals, China’s top court on Friday called for harsher punishments for making and selling tainted food products. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the Supreme People’s Court specified for the first time acts that are considered crimes in violation of the country’s food-safety law, which forbids unsafe food products but is often accused of being ambiguous.
Li Fangping, a Beijing lawyer representing the victims of the 2008 tainted-milk scandal, told the Christian Science Monitor that the guidelines are just a political statement to satisfy the public. Caixin, a Beijing-based financial-news publication, observes that there is no lack of regulations in China, which has 40 sets of laws, as well as 300 department rules, to ensure food safety. However, food-safety commissions often fail to hold officials accountable because they don’t have much legal support and lack a “regulatory bite,” the publication writes in an editorial.
Zhou Dongfei, a columnist at the Hunan newspaper Xiaoxiang Morning News, writes that the lack of supervision is exactly what is happening in Fujian. He calls for prosecution of the local government that hired Lin and Wu in the first place. “These people had been doing the illegal business in the name of the government for more than three months,” he writes. “Local officials act as if they know nothing about it. Why was it so easy for them to sell the meat? This is a question the government must answer.”