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In 2012, number of cases handled by the courts rose 224.62 percent
The Supreme People's Court said on Friday it will impose harsher sentences on people convicted of crimes related to food safety.
Since 2010, food safety crimes handled by courts have increased sharply, Sun Jungong, a spokesman for the court, said at a news conference in Beijing on Friday.
Between 2010 and 2012, courts concluded 1,533 criminal cases related to the production and sale of toxic and unsafe food, and sentenced 2,088 people, figures released by the court showed.
Although the court didn't release figures on the specific number of food safety cases each year, in 2011, the number of cases handled by courts surged 179.3 percent year-on-year, and the number of convictions jumped 159.88 percent.
In 2012, cases concluded by the courts rose 224.62 percent compared with 2011, and 257.48 percent more suspects were convicted.
"Food safety crimes seriously harm people's health, and severely disturb the order of the market economy," Sun said. "We'll resolutely fight against those crimes and impose harsher punishments."
According to Pei Xianding, director of the No 2 Criminal Tribunal under the Supreme People's Court, major food safety crimes happen frequently, and some suspects don't hesitate to break the law to boost profits.
Pei highlighted recent cases involving toxic milk powder, toxic bean sprouts, "gutter oil", which is recycled from restaurant kitchen waste, as well as pork from ill and dead animals.
In a typical case in March 2012, six suspects were convicted of producing and selling unsafe food products and were sentenced to one to 12 years in prison, in addition to fines, a court in Fujian province said.
Since November 2010, Chen Kaimei, the main suspect, bought pork processed from dead animals from Fujian's Putian city. She also hired others to transport the meat, and resold it to Chen Jinshun and other gang members.
They processed the meat into sausages and other products and sold them to other provinces. The amount of money involved was up to 500,000 yuan ($81,200).
"The judicial interpretation will clarify the convictions and sentencing standards of such crimes, put forward the standards of judicial determination for relevant criminal charges, and unify the application of the law for new and difficult cases," Sun said.
According to the statement released by the court, together with the Supreme People's Procuratorate, severe food poisoning incidents and other illnesses caused by food safety crimes will now be tried as the production and sale of toxic and harmful food, rather than just the production and sale of substandard food.
"If people are convicted of making and selling substandard food products, they usually face jail terms ranging from three to 10 years. But if they are convicted of producing and selling toxic and harmful food, the maximum sentence will be the death sentence," said Hong Daode, a law professor at the China University of Political Science.
Dangerous food items linked to severe food poisoning incidents mainly include those with pathogenic microorganisms, pesticides leftovers, heavy metals, tainted products, meat from ill and dead animals or seafood as well as substandard nutrients in infants' dairy products.
In addition, authorities will impose severe punishments on the abuse of food additives, according to the court's statement.
It said that if people use food additives that cause severe food poisoning incidents and other serious illnesses, they will be charged with producing and selling substandard food.
Also, if people illegally add forbidden drugs to healthcare products, they will be accused of manufacturing and selling poisonous and harmful food.
The statement added that authorities will boost the fight against illegal pig-slaughtering facilities.
"Illegal slaughterhouses are considered an important channel for the pork from ill and dead animals, or untested pork, to flow into markets," said Han Yaoyuan, deputy director for laws and policies of the court's research department.
The statement added that people who set up illegal slaughtering facilities will be given heavier sentences than before.
"In the past, they were only accused of producing and selling substandard or harmful food. If they are convicted of other crimes, they will face heavier punishments," Hong said.
According to the notice, judicial authorities will also hand out severe punishments to crimes related to supervision irregularities.
"The high incidence of food safety crimes is mostly related to supervision loopholes in some authorities, and of their malpractice, dereliction of duty or covering up actions," Han said.