In the U.S., the Food Safety Modernization Act includes specific protections for whistleblowers who report food safety violations, but China has taken that one step further. On January 15, China’s State Food and Drug Administration announced that individuals who report food and drug safety violations could receive a reward ranging from 1% to 6% of the value of the products involved—up to 300,000 yuan (about $50,000).
The Wall Street Journal reported that the average Chinese workers made $2.50 an hour, including benefits. At that rate, a Chinese laborer would have to work nearly 10 years at 40 hours a week to collect $50,000.
The program, according to a circular from the agency, aims to “encourage the public to report illegal activities so as to determine, control, and eliminate potential safety risks concerning food and medicine.”
The prospect of such rewards demonstrates just how serious China is taking food safety, said former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods David Acheson, MD, who now heads the food and import safety practice for consulting firm Leavitt Partners. “I know from working with the government there, and knowing Chinese industry, that they are aggressively trying to sell to their middle-class market, which is growing and becoming increasingly affluent. They want to be strong on food safety because it’s politically the right thing to do domestically and because it will protect their global export market.”
China tends to do things in extremes, Dr. Acheson noted, pointing to the 2007 execution of former SFDA head Zheng Xiaoyu, who had taken bribes to approve fake medications. “They’ve also executed people who have been found to willfully harm their food supply.”
SFDA’s offer of such large rewards is seen as a much more capitalistic way to regulate than under China’s traditional socialist approach, Dr. Acheson said. “But if we were to offer something like that here, our regulators would be absolutely inundated with calls, both real and imagined. It might work there though because their system doesn’t require a ton of red tape and bureaucracy. They’ll just do it. If they find that it doesn’t work later, they’ll just stop it. It’s so out there, it just might work,” he said.