Processor’s misdeeds show need for harsher penalties

By Zhang Yu Source:Global Times Published: 2014-7-21 19:28:01

A television news exposé Sunday uncovered malfeasance and deceptive business practices at a food processing plant in Jiading district that supplied meat products to several fast-food chains in Shanghai, including McDonald's, KFC, Papa John's, Pizza Hut and Subway.

Shanghai Television Station (STV) sent an undercover reporter into the plant, which is owned by Husi Food, a subsidiary of US-based OSI Group. The reporter, who posed as a factory worker, discovered an alarming number of food safety violations at the plant.

Hidden camera footage showed workers processing meat that had been dropped on the floor, despite factory rules that forbid the practice, according to the STV report. Buckets labeled "substandard" were filled with meat that was later mixed with fresh cuts to process meat products that were shipped off to the plants' customers.

STV also got ahold of an e-mail that disclosed that the company extended the expiration date on more than 1 ton of steak by an entire year.

The Shanghai Food and Drug Administration closed the factory pending its investigation. Some customers, including McDonald's, have stopped using meat supplied by Husi.

Clearly, there is blame to go around in this incident, first and foremost with Husi. The company's disregard for food safety regulations is despicable.

STV interviewed a Husi employee surnamed Zhang who had been with the company for 10 years. Zhang said he told managers about what was going on at the factory floor, but was told to mind his business, according to the report.

Zhang's quote shows that the company's managers knew about the infractions, but chose to do nothing. The company and its management should be investigated and, if guilty, punished to the fullest extent of the law.

The food safety regulator shouldn't be spared from criticism either. In an ideal world, it should be the one tipping off the media about food safety violations, not the other way around. Nonetheless, kudos to STV for breaking the story.

Because the regulator's investigation is still pending, it is impossible to know just how much danger fast-food customers in Shanghai were exposed to. What is more interesting, at least at present, is what Husi did to conceal its malfeasance.  

The STV story not only reveals a company's corrupt business practices, but illustrates the incredible challenge that restaurants, even giant chains like McDonald's and KFC, have in ensuring the quality of their food supplies.

For example, the STV report showed footage in which substandard meat was hidden away when a McDonald's inspection team visited the factory. The whistleblower, Zhang, also talked about how the company kept two sets of production records, one real and one phony, to trick the inspectors.

Considering the regulators' own failure at rooting out Husi's sanitation and safety violations, perhaps it just isn't possible to ensure that every food supplier to the city is meeting its health and safety requirements. If that is the case, the punishment must be severe to serve as a deterrent.

The government has already introduced harsher penalties for companies that violate food safety rules.

For example, the current law says that companies that use expired materials in food production can be fined five to 10 times the value of the products concerned. Under a trial version of China's new food safety law, that particular punishment will be raised to 10 to 20 times the value of the products sold.

It remains to be seen whether the changes will be enough to deter other companies from taking similar shortcuts.

Posted in: Society, TwoCents

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