Local governments in China gear up for fight against illegal food additives

From 24-hour complaint hotlines to instant additive detectors, local governments in China are striving to battle the illegal use of food additives following a string of food scandals.

According to a statement released Saturday by the office of the food safety commission under the State Council, China’s Cabinet, governments in Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang and Guangdong have incorporated the local food safety situation into the evaluation of officials’ work, while ordering strengthened and coordinated food safety supervision at city and county levels.

Many provinces and autonomous regions are distributing educational information through local media to promote, among the local population, the awareness of food safety and the harm of banned food additives, stressing severe punishment in the hope of intimidating potential violators.

Law enforcement departments in Chongqing, Guangdong, Liaoning and Hunan have punished violators involved in a series of food scandals which included “poisonous bean sprouts,” “inked vermicelli” and “dyed peppers,” according to the statement.

The document did not provide details on these cases.

Meanwhile, governments are figuring out new measures to stem food violations.

For instance, the provincial government of northeastern Jilin has set up round-the-clock hotlines for food safety complaints and recruited 1,300 voluntary food safety supervisors who go deep into communities for clues on potential food scandals.

Supervisors in southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region were equipped with additive detecting devices, which are reportedly able to check 27 kinds of illegal food additives “quickly and correctly,” including melamine and clenbuterol, a kind of fat-burning drug used by violators to feed pigs to prevent them from accumulating fat.

The municipal government of Beijing stipulates that companies found to have committed food violations in the past would be limited in investing in the municipality, while principals responsible for the wrongdoings will be banned from food manufacturing and distribution businesses.

Beijing also requires restaurants to inform customers of all food additives contained in their self-made beverages and food sauces by posting the lists in menus or other public places. The lists should also be reported to supervisory departments.

According to the statement, the Ministry of Agriculture has sent five teams to various regions, including Hebei, Jilin and Heilongjiang to inspect local food safety conditions.

Vice Premier Li Keqiang warned last month of the great harm caused by illegal additives in food during a high-profile national meeting, promising a “firm attitude, iron-handed measures and more efforts” in dealing with the problem.

“Once such a case surfaces, it has an extensive social impact and easily causes a ripple effect, so we must attach great importance to it,” Li said, adding that severe penalties must be imposed on violators to “let the violators pay dearly” and send a message to others.

A high-profile, nationwide fight against the illegal use of additives in food was then launched to intensify supervision, upgrade safety standards and greatly increase penalties for violators.

The moves came following a series of scandals including steamed buns dyed with unidentified chemicals, as well as the use of illegal cooking oil, known as “gutter oil.”

In one of the latest cases, police detained 96 people for producing, selling or using meat additives and confiscated over 400 kg of clenbuterol, widely known in the country as “lean meat powder,” in central Henan Province.

The action followed a scandal revealed in March when the country’s largest meat processor, Shuanghui Group, was forced to issue a public apology for its clenbuterol-tainted pork products.

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