China's celebrities grumbled about the newly-endorsed Food Safety Law during the ongoing parliament and political advisory sessions, saying it "unfair" to hold them liable, as the law stipulates, if the product they recommend in ads is found unsafe.
Renowned movie director Feng Xiaogang said the provision has aroused concerns from many stars and they asked him to bring up the topic at the annual session of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
The top political advisory body has many celebrities members including singers, actors and writers.
The law adopted last month after four readings by the legislature was welcomed among people, who expected more effective control on food safety following a tainted dairy products scandal last year, but triggered controversy for the provision on celebrities' "joint liability" in "fake" advertisements.
It stipulates all social organizations and individuals who recommend unsafe food in advertisements should shoulder "joint liability" for damages incurred.
Under the provision, consumers can demand compensation from both food producers and the celebrities in the ads.
Stars are generally believed as a major target of the provision as they are the favorites of advertisement agencies.
"I think the provision is unfair," said Feng, a CPPCC National Committee member, at a panel discussion.
"If stars should shoulder joint liability, then quality inspection agencies and media which publicize the ads should be held liable, too," said the outspoken director, who directed The Banquet and The Assembly.
Feng said most stars would ask for quality safe certification before agreeing to recommend the products. "If we cannot trust certification from the authorities, who can we trust?"
The director said celebrities should be punished if they are aware that the food they recommend are unsafe. Otherwise, they should not be held responsible, he said.
Several Chinese stars advertised for products of the Sanlu Group, a company at the epicenter of the milk contamination scandal. The stars were vehemently criticized after six babies died and nearly 300,000 others sickened in the scandal.
Many people posted online demands asking the stars to apologize to and compensate families of the babies. But others argued that it was unfair to blame the stars as Sanlu had legal documents to prove its products safe.
Sanlu and other dairy companies, whose products were found to contain melamine, a chemical that raises the apparent protein content of dairy products, had been exempted from food inspections before the scandal.
In contrast to Feng's grumble, some celebrities chose to accept the law.
Jiang Kun, a well-known crosstalk artist, said since the provision is stipulated in the law, celebrities have to abide by it.
"Celebrities are public figures and they have social responsibilities," said Jiang, also a member of the CPPCC National Committee.
"Since celebrities enjoy many privileges and have vast social influence, they should behave themselves. Self-discipline is important," he said.
The law, which goes into effect on June 1, 2009, will enhance monitoring and supervision, toughen safety standards, recall substandard products and severely punish offenders.
(China Daily March 9, 2009)