China arrests 2,000 over illegal food additives


CHINESE AUTHORITIES have arrested 2,000 suspects and shut down more than 4,900 businesses as part of a national campaign to crack down on illegal additives in food, after a raft of food safety scares.

The campaign was launched in April after a series of exposes about tainted food – including pork used in dumplings that was so full of chemicals it apparently glowed in the dark, bean sprouts full of carcinogens and rice containing heavy metals.

Other recent food scandals in China have involved contaminated red wine, bleached mushrooms, fake tofu and recycled cooking oil.

The latest crackdown involved co-ordinated efforts by agricultural, industrial, commercial, quality control and food officials.

By the weekend they had inspected almost six million food or additives manufacturers and catering businesses, according to a statement issued by the Food Safety Commission, which reports to China’s cabinet, the state council.

The police have investigated 1,200 criminal cases of people adding non-edible materials to food and have destroyed a series of what they described as “underground” sites for illegal production, storage and processing of food products, Xinhua news agency reported.

The government said any violators would be severely punished.

The government has been getting tough on food safety. Last month a Chinese court handed out long sentences, including a suspended death penalty, to five people involved in producing and selling pork tainted with a poisonous chemical.

In April, China’s quality inspection agency ordered 426 of the country’s 1,176 dairies to stop production as part of efforts to clean up the industry.

Nervousness about the quality of produce is high.

Last year, the health ministry was forced to issue a statement to say it had found no evidence contaminated milk powder for babies had caused three infant girls to grow breasts.

In December, there were fears for the safety of hotpot, a national treasure, after reports of a chemical additive, although the fears proved to be groundless.

In March, an illegal additive was reported in meat supplied by an affiliate of Shuanghui, China’s largest meat processor.

The problem of food contamination has proven difficult to resolve.

In 2008, at least six children died and nearly 300,000 fell ill from drinking powdered milk laced with melamine, an industrial compound added to fool inspectors by giving misleadingly high results in protein tests.

Since then, by some estimates more than half the babies in China are given imported milk powder, and stockists in Hong Kong and Macau regularly run out as mainland Chinese shoppers buy up the stock.