Among recent prosecutions for the sale of “ill and diseased” pigs processed for human consumption was a case near the eastern city of Qingdao, where a suspect named Cui was jailed for three years for processing CNY800,000-worth of ill pigs he bought from another suspect, Yang, who was also charged for knowing the pigs would end up in the human food chain.
The two were prosecuted under Article 143 of the country’s Criminal Law, which prescribes up to three years’ jail for the knowing production or sale of foods that don’t meet food safety standards and are sufficient to cause serious poisoning. Cases where harm has been caused can end in a three- to seven-year sentence.
China’s social media platforms have been buzzing this month with conjecture and reports on African swine fever contamination of the food supply chain. Leading frozen foods supplier Sanquan Foods – with its frozen dumplings a household staple across China – continues to be in the eye of the social media storm. The company was forced into a product recall after pork suppliers were hit with the disease.
While most cases involve pigs, there has also been one prosecution of a lamb vendor in Hainan province, the country’s premier island tourism region and a blackspot for consumer protection issues. The Hainan Number Two Intermediate People’s Court recently handed down a two-year sentence and a CNY100,000 fine to an unlicensed slaughterhouse operator, surnamed Zhou, who was found butchering sheep with “ruminant diseases”. Zhou was investigated by local police, working with the China Food & Drug Administration and the local offices of the Agriculture Ministry. He was prosecuted for being in breach of the GB2707 code of the 2016 National Food Safety Standard on Fresh and Frozen Livestock and Poultry Products.
Also recently, Li Zhong Hua was prosecuted in Tonghai court in Yunnan province for picking up sick and dead cows and pigs from small villagers, with the meat butchered for sale in local wet markets.
Somewhat confusingly, there are multiple agencies prosecuting food safety cases in China, with the State Administration of Market Regulation, the police, the Safety & Drug Administration (formerly the Food & Drug Administration) and regional inspection offices of the Ministry of Agriculture all acting unilaterally and sometimes together on inspections.
Meanwhile, there has also been a fresh trend in “public interest cases” taken by state-sponsored consumer protection bodies against illegal meat processors and practices. The Consumer Council and the Consumer Association appear to be new government actors in a fight normally taken by the Safety & Drug Administration and Ministry of Agriculture, working with police.
African swine fever has added to woes for authorities already facing severe pressure to rein in smugglers and black market operators from the meat industry, which fears losing out to imports with the never-ending flow of food safety issues facing consumers. The ‘fang xin rou’ (‘rest assured safe meat’) campaign of 2018 across retailers nationwide and a similar clampdown on back yard processors don’t seem to have fixed the problem of unethical operators.