November 29, 2011
China takes cases of 'lean-meat powder' use to trial
Until late October, Henan province courts have tried 59 cases related to 'lean meat powder', a substance used illegally to stimulate muscle growth in pigs.
The trials resulted in 113 convictions, a senior judicial official in the province said at a news conference on Friday.
The cases arose following media reports about the use of clenbuterol hydrochloride, better known in China as "lean meat powder", by the giant meat processor Shineway Group.
The first of the cases was heard in late July and the subsequent three months have seen other trials related to the same matter take place in various cities in Henan province, said Tian Liwen, vice-chief of the High People's Court of Henan.
"We mainly targeted those who produced and sold the harmful ingredient and government employees who were lax in fulfilling their duty to keep food safe," Tian said.
Among those who were found guilty in the cases, 60 people were punished for producing and selling clenbuterol, and 17 had worked for government departments.
Liu Xiang, who produced 'lean meat powder with his wife, received the severest punishment in any of the cases. He began producing 'lean-meat powder' in 2007 and, by March, had made more than CNY6million (US$940,000) by selling 2,700kilogrammes of it. His products were distributed to pig farmers in Henan and seven other provinces.
In July, he was convicted of "endangering public security with a dangerous method" and sentenced to death with a reprieve.
Majority of the 36 pig farmers who were accused received detention punishments or prison terms of less than a year.
The discovery of 'lean meat powder' was once regarded as a scientific achievement in China, largely because the substance can be used to stimulate muscle growth and fat loss in pigs, resulting in leaner pork. Subsequent research, though, found that it can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches and heart palpitations in people who consumer animals which have ingested it. The country has banned its use in livestock feed since 1997.
Professor Wang Zhenmin, dean of the school of law in Tsinghua University, said Liu's case shows the judicial department has zero tolerance for crimes that undermine food safety.
In March, China Central Television revealed that lean meat powder had gone into the production of food sold by Shineway Group. That led to a yearlong crackdown on the use of the substance.
The crackdown has spawned investigations into 125 cases involving 980 people who are suspected of illegally trading and using the substance, Chen Xiaohua, vice-minister of agriculture, said on November 12.
It also resulted in the closing of nineteen factories where the powder had been produced and the confiscation of 2.5tonnes of the substance, Chen said.