BEIJING (AP) — China's Cabinet ordered authorities across the country on Thursday to step up their battle against illegal food additives following several recent tainted food scandals.
So far this year, authorities have uncovered sales of drug-tainted pork, bean sprouts treated with a carcinogenic chemical compound, and old bread treated with sweeteners and dye to make it seem fresh.
The announcement by the State Council on Thursday said food inspections should be stepped up and violators must be severely punished. It did not say whether there would be any new, stricter penalties.
"At present, the misuse of the food additives and non-edible substance in food production has become a prominent issue affecting our overall food safety," the notice said.
The announcement called for a "severe crackdown on illegal activities" to safeguard the public's health and lives.
China's worst food safety scandal in recent years involved infant formula and other dairy products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, which can cause kidney stones and kidney failure. It killed six children and sickened more than 300,000 others in 2008.
A series of problems, including the melamine dairy scandal, prompted China to pass tougher food safety regulations and step up inspections, though many problems still exist.
Much of the food in China is produced by backyard farms and small-scale manufacturers, which makes enforcing food safety standards difficult.
Earlier this month, police in the central province of Henan detained 95 people involved in a tainted pork scandal. The suspects allegedly made, sold or used pig feed laced with clenbuterol, a banned drug that causes pigs to convert fat to muscle quickly.
Clenbuterol can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches and heart palpitations in humans, but pig farmers like to use it because it yields more lean meat, which is more expensive than fatty meat.
The investigation was launched after tainted pork was found being sold by Shuanghui Group, China's largest meat processor.
An investigative report by China Central Television this month revealed that a bakery in Shanghai was taking expired bread and adding sweeteners and artificial coloring to make it taste and appear fresh. The package didn't list any of the additives, and the amounts exceeded national standards.
In the northeastern city of Shenyang, authorities last week detained 12 people and seized 40 tons of bean sprouts tainted with banned food additives, including sodium nitrite which can be toxic for humans in large amounts and is carcinogenic. Farmers used the additives to make the sprouts grow faster and look shinier.