BEIJING, CHINA - China has vowed to punish people guilty of food safety crimes, calling for the death penalty to be applied in cases when the culprits "deserve" it, state media reported Thursday.
A circular released by four government agencies including the Supreme People's Court and the Ministry of Public Security also urged a "high-voltage" crackdown on food safety criminals, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Food safety has become an issue of huge concern in China as scandals involving product contamination or the illegal use of banned substances keep erupting despite government pledges to clean up the industry.
At the beginning of the month, for example, officials in central China acknowledged they had waited five months before notifying the public that a brand of cooking oil had been found to contain excessive carcinogens.
According to the circular, government officials who have been found accepting bribes and
protecting, or simply ignoring, people engaged in food safety crimes, would be punished more harshly, Xinhua reported.
"Generally, officials who are involved in food safety crimes should not be given a reprieve or be exempt from criminal punishment," it said.
"Those deserving death penalties should be resolutely sentenced to death," it added.
The circular pinpointed repeat offenders, those at the heart of gangs and those whose crimes had inflicted serious harm on people on a large scale as eligible for strict punishments.
One of the biggest food safety scandals to hit China emerged in 2008 when huge amounts of melamine were found to have been illegally added to dairy products to give the appearance of higher protein content.
The scandal was blamed for the deaths of at least six infants and for making 300,000 others ill in China. Two people were executed for their role in the incident. --AFP