China arrests 2,000 over banned food additives

PHOTO: China arrests 2,000 over banned food additives

BEIJING -- China has arrested around 2,000 people and closed nearly 5,000 businesses in a major crackdown on illegal food additives after a wave of contamination scares, the government said late Wednesday.

China launched the campaign in April following a spate of tainted food scandals - included toxic milk, dyed buns and pork found on the market so loaded with bacteria that it reportedly glowed in the dark.

Nearly six million food businesses have now been investigated as part of the crackdown, launched in an effort to shore up plummeting public confidence in Chinese-made food products.

More than 4,900 were shut down for "illegal practices," the government's Food Safety Commission said in a statement.

Police have also destroyed "underground" food production and storage sites, and arrested around 2,000 suspects, it said, adding that anyone found breaking the law would be severely punished.

"All regions and relevant departments will continue to carry out the crackdown on illegal food additives and firmly punish criminals and spare no effort to safeguard peoples' food safety," it said.

China has repeatedly pledged to clean up its vast food industry after milk products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, added to give the appearance of high protein content, killed at least six babies and sickened 300,000 in 2008.

The scandal caused huge outrage and the following year China passed a food safety law to try to allay public concern but the country has since been hit with numerous food scares.

Authorities have discovered bean sprouts laced with cancer-causing nitrates, steamed buns with banned chemical preservatives, and rice laced with heavy metals, prompting the latest crackdown.

In June, police in southern China detained a factory owner suspected of mixing an industrial chemical used to soften plastics - known as DEHP - into food additives, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Xinhua said the initial investigation suggested the company, Yuyan Food Co. in Dongguang City, Guangdong province, may have imported raw materials contaminated with DEHP from Taiwan.

Experts say there are many causes of food safety problems in China, including ambiguous regulations that create loopholes and underfunded regulators who struggle to keep tabs on countless small food producers and retailers.

In May, China's top court ordered capital punishment for food safety crimes that result in fatalities.

A former pharmaceutical factory worker was last month given a two-year suspended death sentence - usually commuted to life - for making clenbuterol, an illegal fat-burning chemical, which was sold to pork producers.

The sentencing of Liu Xiang and four others, who received jail terms ranging from nine years to life, was broadcast live on state television, highlighting the level of public concern over tainted pork, a staple in the Chinese diet.

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