The authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui have detained 47 people in connection with the deaths of 12 babies who were fed fake infant milk formula, RFA reports.
The head of the Fuyang City public security bureau Wang Dongxi said that 40 of those detained had been arrested with the approval of the procuratorate on formal charges of producing and marketing shoddy and fake products and selling unhygienic food causing diseases, according to a report by the official Xinhua news agency.
Most of the people arrested were from Fuyang, Wang was quoted as saying. An investigation ordered by Premier Wen Jiabao found that 12 babies died and 229 were suffering malnutrition after drinking the fake formula, Xinhua reported Monday.
China's Food and Drug Administration, together with police and other government departments, recently issued emergency guidelines requiring all agencies involved in food safety to specify a named official in charge of supervising the quality of powdered milk, in order to coordinate inspections and punishments of violators.
[Chinese journalist] Ma Xiaoming told RFA's Mandarin service that the fake milk scandal was largely the result of a lack of public supervision of government officials in China. "The taxpayers spend their money to establish those agencies and expect them to do their job for the people. However, those people, after they get paid, either choose to ignore the problem or worse, to collaborate with those who make the fake food or add harmful ingredients into the food, by leaking information to them or helping them to get away from the law, to help them do those horrible things," Ma said in a recent interview with RFA reporter Lin Ping.
The newly coordinated inspections will target milk powder for babies sold everywhere, including milk products sold in rural and wholesale markets. Cases will be immediately transferred to law enforcement departments if they are serious enough.
U.S.-based sociologist Liu Xiaozhu said public participation was essential to step up supervision of manufacturers. "The government would do things half-heartedly without the people's surveillance. Simply because of such surveillance the government will pay attention when forced to by the people's behavior through a democratic mechanism."
But Ma said China lacked non-governmental consumer watchdogs crucial to the representation of public interest in the food industry. "In our society, all voluntary participation, monitoring and organizing at grass-roots level will probably be regarded as a dangerous tendency and a dangerous activity by the government," he said. "At the very least, the government will regard those activities as possibly ruining the government�s reputation."#####