China's Supreme People's Court (SPC) [official website, in Chinese] issued a directive [press release, in Chinese] Friday instituting new harsher penalties under the criminal law for violations of food safety crimes. The penalties raise the prison sentences and eliminate the caps on fines and raises penalties for public officials found to have protected violators or taken bribes from them. The penalties for violators may even include the death penalty if the violation results in the someone's death. The SPC said that food safety incidents are endangering many lives. One major problem is using melamine as a milk additive [Xinhua report] to raise protein levels. In 2008 thousands of infants were diagnosed with kidney stones after being fed milk powder with melamine. The contaminated milk is believed to have caused [AP report] the deaths of at least six infants along with sickening about 300,000 others. There have also been problems with the recycling of old, moldy buns by steaming them and adding chemicals to make them seem fresh.
The problem of tainted Chinese milk is not subsiding, despite Chinese government promises to the contrary and attempts at reform [JURIST report]. Last September, police in China's Shanxi province in arrested seven individuals [JURIST report], including the executive of a dairy company, after that company's powdered milk was found to contain melamine. In July 2010, Chinese authorities discovered 64 tons of raw dairy materials [Xinhua report] contaminated with melamine in Qinghai province. In February, Chinese police arrested three individuals [JURIST report] for their roles in the 2008 tainted milk scandal. Two other individuals were executed [JURIST report] in November 2009 after being convicted of endangering public safety and selling toxic food.