Journalists and whistleblowers should be given more protection as they expose food safety scandals, Shanghai’s chief official told a municipal meeting in the wake of last week’s expired meat scandal that has embroiled a number of international fast food chains.
Han Zheng, secretary of the Communist Party of China Shanghai Municipal Committee, also pledged to “severely punish” anyone implicated in the Husi Foods investigation that came about after a television expose revealed evidence that the US-owned meat processor had been repackaging products that had expired.
OSI Group, Husi’s Illinois-based owner, has taken responsibility for the affair, with the company’s chief executive, Sheldon Lavin, last week branding the practice as “completely unacceptable”.
Food brands including McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks have each found new meat suppliers and launched their own investigations. Five people have so far been detained for their alleged part in the scandal, including Husi’s general manager and quality control chief.
It is unlikely the affair would have come to light were it not for the investigation by Shanghai’s Dragon TV channel, something Han acknowledged as he called for more protection for investigative journalists.
“The media's watchdog role in this case should be viewed as a positive energy,” he said, before urging the Chinese Food and Drug Authority to remain vigilant.
“[It should] take notes from what had happened to prevent similar cases from happening again,” Han said.
In a statement posted on its website over the weekend, OSI Group said it would “withdraw all products manufactured by Shanghai Husi from the marketplace”.
The group also said it was conducting a thorough internal investigation into any possible failures on the part of current and former senior management.
“To help rebuild the trust of our customers and consumers, as well as to cooperate with the official investigatory process, we are compelled to withdraw all products manufactured by Shanghai Husi from the marketplace,” the OSI statement said.
“Should any misconduct be uncovered, we will take swift and decisive action against those responsible, including all relevant disciplinary and/or legal measures.
In addition, a new OSI management team has been sent to China to ensure that operations run effectively.
"These decisions are the most responsible course of action we can take at this point in time. We are working hard to bring assurance to our customers and ultimate consumers,” said Brent Afman, OSI’s managing director for Asia-Pacific.