NPC & CPPCC > China Daily Exclusive

Stars may become liable for food ads

By Zhu Zhe (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-02-26 08:09

Celebrities will share legal responsibility for advertising for food products that are found to be unsafe, according to the latest draft law.

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The draft food safety law stipulates all social organizations and individuals who recommend unsafe food products in ads shoulder "joint liability" with food producers if the products harm consumers' rights and interests.

It was submitted to the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee for review on Wednesday.

Renmin University of China law professor Yang Lixin explained "joint liability" means that consumers can demand compensation from both the unsafe food's producers and the stars in the ads.

Deputy director of the NPC Law Committee Liu Xirong said the change was in response to legislators' complaints that false or exaggerated food ads - many featuring celebrities - have been cheating and misleading consumers.

"So, we consider it necessary to impose stricter controls over food ads," he said.

The latest draft also bans food supervision authorities, and industry and consumer associations, from recommending food products to consumers in ads or any other form. Should they not comply, their directors or those with direct responsibility face demotion or dismissal.

Unsafe food product ads became a major issue after the melamine scandal started last September.

Many people questioned whether celebrities who had promoted the tainted products, especially for the Sanlu Group, should share responsibility for the six babies who died and 30,000 who were sickened.

Head of Peking University's advertising department Chen Gang said he welcomed the legislation.

"Celebrities enjoy vast social influence. It's easier for the public to believe what celebrities say compared to trusting ordinary people," he said.

Chen said stricter controls are needed for food ads, because food products directly affect human health.

Some legal experts said the law is well intended but goes too far.

"The rule aims to prevent celebrities from abusing their influence, which is necessary, but subjecting them to joint liability might be too harsh," Yang said.

NPC Law Committee member Wang Liming said it was "a bit unfair" to put celebrities who appear in ads on the same tier of legal responsibility as food producers.

"There's no doubt food producers should shoulder the primary responsibility if there are food incidents," he said.

Wang believed celebrities who recommend unsafe food products in commercials should bear "corresponding" responsibility.

Yang said: "It should matter whether the celebrities were or were not aware the food products were unsafe. Joint liability should apply to those who were."

The rule will force celebrities to think twice before appearing in food ads, Jiang Wenjuan, agent of famous mainland actress Jiang Wenli, said.

"We're already very careful about doing such ads. We usually ask for all relevant government certification to prove the products are safe," she said.

Jiang also said they had sometimes signed contracts with food producers stating the star would bear no responsibility in the case of consumer complaints.

"But if such a stipulation becomes law, it's certain that we'll be even more careful."

An editorial of the People's Daily has called on China's top political advisory body to made due contributions to help the country weather through difficulties.