Harsher penalties

0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, April 13, 2011
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Every time something nasty is found in our food, there are intensive official efforts to deliver the sense that they are seriously concerned and that it won't be allowed to happen again.

Yet the sense of security they have tried to convey has been elusive to Chinese consumers, for whom food is a top priority.

We feel ashamed enumerating what we have come across in our food in recent years - malachite green, Sudan yellow, melamine, formaldehyde, ractopamine, and clenbuterol.

But the shameful fact is, we have no idea how many other illicit additives have found their way into the food chain. The latest media expos about the problematic steamed buns in Shanghai's major supermarket chains is just another piece of evidence justifying our concern.

We have received repeated assurances, reassurances actually, from the authorities about food safety and we have witnessed their efforts to weed out identified threats to our food supplies. Those efforts have made us feel better - though people are becoming increasingly reluctant to consign their safety to official watchdogs - we have the belief that things would be worse if they did nothing at all.

The new scandal in Shanghai, however, should remind us that our sense of safety, if it was ever there, is illusive at best, particularly as the steamed buns revealed more than one problem.

It was not only about the pre-dating of the popular staple, or reprocessing of expired steamed buns. The scandal involved unauthorized use of additives - colorants and preservatives - not intended or allowed in the manufacturing of foodstuffs.

However, what was even more outrageous than this disregard of basic food safety, the steamed buns carried guarantee labels issued by quality inspection authorities and were selling well in major local stores.

So what do we see here? The manufacturer's complete disregard of the rules, of course, and once again the dereliction of duty by the authorities charged with safeguarding our food. There reportedly are 20 government agencies now in charge of food safety. But none of them prevented the scandal. And this is not the first time they have been pre-empted by the media.

The same old pattern of official assurances following a media expos does no good to the authorities. Because no matter how "quick", "efficient", or "resolutely" they respond, they have failed to do what they are supposed to do in the first place.

The violators must be brought to justice. Chances are they will be. But we share the concern that the penalties for food safety violations and dereliction of duty are too lenient to deter illicit merchants and slack officials. We are all for substantially raising the stakes and that those companies which disregard the law should vanish permanently from the market.

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