China probes meat scandal as foreign brands blasted

China has shut OSI Group's factory in Shanghai for supplying out-of-date meat to KFC and McDonald's.
PHOTO: China has shut OSI Group's factory in Shanghai for supplying out-of-date meat to KFC and McDonald's.

SHANGHAI - Chinese police are questioning staff of US food supplier OSI Group for selling expired meat, state media said Tuesday, as a newspaper blasted foreign brands for failing to adopt a "dedicated attitude" towards local consumers.

Shanghai authorities on Sunday shut an OSI plant - a supplier to McDonald's and KFC in China - for mixing out-of-date meat with fresh product, re-labelling expired goods and other quality problems following an investigative report by a local television station.

Police were questioning "several" employees of OSI subsidiary Shanghai Husi Food Co., the Shanghai Daily newspaper reported, while local television said those responsible had been placed "under control". Police could not be reached for comment.

The China Food and Drug Administration had ordered an investigation of OSI's factories nationwide, according to a statement.

In an editorial, the Global Times newspaper took aim at McDonald's and restaurant operator Yum, whose brands include KFC and Pizza Hut, for failing to police their suppliers.

"This is yet another example of the backslide of well-known foreign brands in China," said the newspaper, known for its nationalistic editorial stance.

"Famous international brands have not adopted a dedicated attitude toward Chinese consumers. Perhaps they believed the Chinese market is a rough place, and that service that is 'just good enough' can work in China." McDonald's said it had "immediately" stopped using the factory's products while Yum said separately its KFC and Pizza Hut establishments had also halted use of meat from the Shanghai plant.

US coffee chain Starbucks confirmed it was supplied chicken by the factory, but had removed the product from 12 provinces and a major municipality in China.

China's official Xinhua news agency accused OSI and foreign fast food chains of having double standards towards food safety.

"The out-of-date meat was given firstly to the Chinese market, sparking doubts over double standards on food safety among the supplier, or maybe fast-food tycoons," it said Monday.

OSI said it was "appalled" by the allegations while announcing it had formed a team to investigate.

China has been rocked by a series of food and product safety problems, due to lax enforcement of regulations and corner-cutting by producers.

One of the worst incidents occurred in 2008 when the industrial chemical melamine was found to have been illegally added to dairy products, killing at least six babies and making 300,000 people ill.

Foreign milk powder and other food brands have gained in China from consumer perceptions of being safer and subject to stricter standards.

But China has in the last year taken aim at foreign companies in several sectors, ranging from pharmaceuticals to infant formula, over their high prices and other business practices.

In the crackdown, police say three top executives of British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline in China ordered employees to commit bribery to lift sales of their products.