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Food-safety offenders to receive harsher penalties

(China Daily)

08:06, June 18, 2013

Residents of Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, learn how to distinguish organic vegetables at a food safety exhibition on Monday. WANG PENG / XINHUA

Shanghai strives to impose economical and legal deterrents on lawbreakers

Shanghai has stepped up its punishment for those found to be endangering food safety by removing ceilings for fines and allowing the death penalty for severe crimes, a high official from Shanghai's top court said on Monday.

"The threshold for sending food-safety lawbreakers to prison has been lowered. Stiff penalties both legally and economically will ensure criminals do not dare to get involved in such crimes again," said Zou Bihua, vice-president of the Shanghai High People's Court, at a news conference.

The Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate jointly issued a judicial interpretation on May 2, which legal experts said gives clearer definitions of criminal behaviors in the food safety sector.

"For example, the law only defines those who caused serious food poisoning incidents or the like as guilty, but it was hard for courts to determine whether a behavior had caused such incidents or sickness and then declare someone guilty," said Xu Liming, a presiding judge at the criminal division of the Shanghai High People's Court.

"The judicial interpretation listed five behaviors that can be defined as causing serious food poisoning or disease. The courts can sentence all those who display such behaviors," he said.

These behaviors include producing and selling livestock, poultry and aquatic animals that die of diseases or fail inspection and quarantine tests; and producing and selling infant food containing nutrients that do not conform to food safety standards.

A more extensive crackdown on lawbreakers, including people who provide assistance to those who produce or sell poisonous and harmful food, will be implemented.

Anybody who provides funds, loans, invoices, permits — or facilitating conditions such as business sites, transportation, storage, online sales channels and advertising — will be deemed an accomplice, according to the judicial interpretation.

"The application for probation and exemption from criminal punishment will be reduced, unless there are statutory mitigating circumstances," said Zou from the Shanghai High People's Court.

For such cases, a fine worth twice the production or sales amount will be imposed, according to the interpretation.

"I think the supreme court's intention is to ruin the criminals economically and deprive them of the capital to gain illegal profits again and deter other lawbreakers," Zou said.

Shanghai has struck hard at such crimes in recent years. Seventeen people were imprisoned in 2010, and the number last year was 86, according to statistics from the court. Sentences, as well as fines, have increased, Xu said.

On Feb 28, the People's Court of Shanghai's Huangpu district sentenced two people who used gutter oil, or recycled cooking oil, to make a soup base for hotpot to three years and six months in jail and a fine of 200,000 yuan ($32,630).

"The fine was basically a record high, but with the new rules, the fine will grow higher in the future," Xu said.

But some criminal law experts said the punishment remains light compared with some foreign countries.

"Anybody who has a criminal record in terms of food safety will get a lifetime ban from the industry in some countries," said Liu Xianquan, dean of the Law School of East China University of Political Science and Law.

"Nevertheless, the improvement is appreciated anyway," he said.

The food safety situation remains stable in Shanghai. Seven mass food poisoning incidents happened in 2012, but no one died.

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