While Congress struggles to modernize the U.S.'s impotent food safety laws, China has come up with its own, rather creative solution: Kill the culprits.
China -- the country that produces the vast majority of our recalled consumer products and has had some of the most scandalous episodes of mass food poisoning ever -- says its government will aggressively pursue those who violate food safety laws and, in some cases, have them executed.
"Those deserving death penalties should be resolutely sentenced to death," a government-issued document on handling these situation said, according to the official news agency Xinhua. Government officials who take bribes that lead to violation of food safety laws will also be treated more severely. "Generally, officials who are involved in food safety crimes should not be given a reprieve or be exempt from criminal punishment," the government said.
Chinese food safety scandals make even the latest recall of 500 million eggs in the U.S. look puny in comparison. A couple of years ago, melamine got into the milk supply in China -- killing six children and sickening some 300,000. After that episode, dozens of milk company executives and others involved, were arrested and tried. Two, a farmer and a milk trader, were executed. The chairman of the board of the main company involved in the scandal was sentenced to life in prison.
Even after the very public crackdown on those involved in the case, China experienced several more major instances of contaminated food. Not only was there another melamine-in-milk episode, but earlier this year about one-tenth of all cooking oil in China was found to be laced with cancer-causing agents.
Chinese officials have been roundly criticized -- most recently in the cooking oil fiasco -- for not quickly and completely identifying the products and the companies involved. Unfortunately, the U.S. struggles with very similar issues on this front. Here, the tone and substance of food recalls are largely dictated by the companies rather than the government -- often meaning that key information is left out or obscured. Unlike consumer product recalls through the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which identify the product names and variations and where they were sold, Food and Drug Administration recalls don't follow a clear template and often omit key information for consumers.
Take, for example, a recent recall of Marketside frozen BBQ chicken pizza. The recall seemed somewhat innocuous when it was first announced. The pizza, which was recalled because tiny bits of plastic may have ended up in the food, seemed like no big deal. But the announcement omitted a key piece of information: those pizzas were sold at Walmart.
And, how is that the egg facilities that ended up recalling 500 million eggs had literally hundreds of positive tests for Salmonella previously that no one bothered to tell consumers about?
It's probably not quite time to recommend the death penalty for problematic food makers in this country, but it is time to crack the whip on Congress. Issuing recalls without giving consumers enough information or until everyone's already gotten sick, seems to me like a punishable offense.
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