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China Urges Tougher Punishments For Food Safety Crimes

China’s courts have been ordered to increase the severity of punishments for food safety crimes, including capital punishment for cases that lead to fatalities, Xinhua news agency reported.

The court’s directive appeared to be the latest move to regain public confidence after a series of food safety scandals, including the most serious recent case in which six children died and nearly 300,000 fell ill in 2008 from powdered milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine.

“Food safety concerns the people’s interests and livelihoods, social stability and the future of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” the court said in a statement on Friday, adding that major cases should be held in open trial.

The Supreme People’s Court ordered lower courts to impose larger fines on people guilty of food safety violations, and suggested courts ban criminals from producing and selling food during their probation period, according to the court statement.

The court further urged severe punishment for government officials who shield people who commit food safety violations, take bribes or neglect their duty.

Numerous crackdowns on China’s food sector apparently have had little effect, as the country continues to be beset by poisonings and toxin scandals that have shaken consumer confidence.

Early last month, China ordered nearly half the nation’s dairy firms to halt production for inspections as part of a campaign to clean up the blighted industry.

About a week later, three children died and 35 people became ill from drinking milk tainted with a toxic meat-curing agent in China’s northwestern Gansu province, state media reported.

In mid-March, authorities in the central province of Henan closed 16 pig farms and sealed 134 tonnes of pork products after an illegal drug was reportedly used to produce lean meat, Xinhua reported at the time.

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