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Bakery gets fingers burned over unlicensed lockdown sales

By LIN SHUJUAN in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2022-09-05 09:20
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Shanghai's market regulator on Saturday defended its decision to fine the Shanghai subsidiary of popular bakery chain Paris Baguette, for violating food safety regulations during the COVID-19 outbreak in April, apparently in response to the online uproar over the decision.

A fine of 585,000 yuan ($84,800) has been issued as the minimum possible punishment in accordance with China's Food Safety Law, and the decision is not yet final as "the case is still undergoing statutory administrative reconsideration", the Shanghai Administration of Market Regulations said in a statement released on Saturday night.

Shanghai SPC Foodstuff Co, the Shanghai subsidiary of Paris Baguette, has the legal right to object, the statement continued.

As of the time of publication, Paris Baguette had yet to comment on the penalty, which was disclosed on Aug 12, arousing public concern and ranking among the most searched stories on the microblogging site Sina Weibo for a number of days.

The bakery was found to have accepted community group-buying orders and to have produced and sold baked goods at a training center on Laohongjing Road in Minhang district between April 23 and 26 during the city's 2-month lockdown. The training center in question was not licensed for food production or associated activities.

The irregularity occurred as a result of the bakery being forced to close its licensed factory premises at 759 Jinglian Road and arrangements for employees unable to return to their residences due to the lockdown to remain at the training center until the situation could be resolved.

At first, the employees used the center's equipment and raw materials to make bread for their own consumption.

As the lockdown continued, the demand for baked goods from the surrounding communities increased and on April 23, it began to produce goods at the training center for sale via group purchase, a move appreciated by customers.

By April 26, the company had sold baked goods valued at 58,500 yuan. Operations halted on April 27 after an inspection by market regulators following a tip-off.

China's Food Safety Law stipulates that the income, tools, equipment, raw materials and other items used for the unlicensed production of food are liable to confiscation, and that a fine of between 10 and 20 times the value of the goods sold may be imposed.

"Food safety is about public health and safety, and is the top priority of market supervision. In the Paris Baguette case, the case-handling department considered the situation, such as the duration of unlicensed operations and the amount involved, and issued a lighter punishment in accordance with the legal minimums stipulated by the Food Safety Law," the statement said.

While some commentators have supported the administration's decision to uphold food safety, others consider the penalty too harsh in light of the unusual circumstances resulting from the citywide lockdown.

Many commentators shared the view of a citizen surnamed Chen: "Law is law, especially when it comes to food safety. Yet goodwill should not be punished. Legal enforcement should also take into consideration the circumstances of the offense, during such unusual circumstances amid a citywide lockdown."

However, as a result of the uproar over the penalty, many have also said they would buy from the bakery "to repay its goodwill".

Paris Baguette is an international bakery chain owned by South Korea's SPC Group. Since first entering China in 2004, the company has expanded its operations to more than 300 outlets nationwide.

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