The Chinese government has arrested 904 people in a crackdown on food safety violators, according to news reports. Those arrested include 63 people involved in an operation that bought rat, mink, fox, and other meat that had not been tested for quality and safety, added gelatin, nitrates and pigment, and sold it as lamb, the Associated Press and other news outlets reported.
A statement from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security on May 2 said the arrests were part of a three-month nationwide operation to “attack food safety crimes and defend the safety of the dining table,” according to news reports. Authorities investigated 380 cases and broke up more than 1,700 illicit factories, workshops and shops.
Western news reports on the crackdown have focused on the adulterated lamb—or rather mixture of other meats masquerading as lamb—which was sold to farmers’ markets in Jiangsu province and Shanghai.
The announcement of the arrests was followed on May 3 by a statement from China’s Supreme People’s Court, the nation’s top court, issuing guidelines for harsher penalties for making and selling unsafe foods, according to AP. Negligent government food inspectors are also targeted for criminal punishment by the new guidelines. The court’s statement said more than 2,000 people have been prosecuted for more than 1,500 food safety cases in 2010 to 2012, AP reported.
As these events continue to appear in the news, the U.S. FDA is taking steps to improve its vigilance over the safety of imported food, an FDA spokeswoman said. Asked to comment on the possibility of importation of adulterated meat like that reported in Shanghai, the spokeswoman said in an e-mail to Food Quality that the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) gives the FDA “important new tools to hold imported foods to the same safety standards as domestic foods.”
Specifically, she continued, “in the near future, we expect to publish two proposed rules that will help improve the safety of imported foods. These are the Importer Foreign Supplier Verification Program and Accredited Third-Party Certification Program.”
The Foreign Supplier Verification Program rule will require each food importer to establish a risk-based program to provide documented assurance to the FDA that the food it is importing has been produced under preventive control systems. Under the Accredited Third-Party Certification Program, the FDA will recognize accrediting bodies and set standards for accreditation of third-party auditors “to help ensure the rigor, objectivity and transparency of privately conducted audits,” she said.