BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court on Monday handed out long sentences, including a suspended death penalty, to five people involved in producing and selling pork tainted with a poisonous chemical, the official Xinhua news agency said.
The pigs were fed clenbuterol to produce lean meat, which sells for a premium in China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of pork.
State media named Henan Shuanghui Investment & Development Co Ltd , the country’s top meat processor, as one of the main companies that had sold the contaminated pork.
The five people suspected of involvement in the case were pronounced guilty by the court in the central province of Henan on the charge of “endangering public security by using dangerous means,” Xinhua reported.
Aside from the suspended death sentence, which in practice means a life sentence, the other suspects got sentences ranging from nine years in prison to life, Xinhua said.
The five, “despite possessing knowledge of the harm of clenbuterol, nevertheless became involved in the production and sale of it,” the report added, citing their indictment.
“Their acts also brought tremendous losses to the local livestock-farming industry,” it said.
“The accused, however, defended themselves by pointing out the loopholes in pork processing companies and government supervision. They also argued there was no relevant case in which consumers got ill as a result of taking in clenbuterol-tainted meat.”
China is no stranger to food safety scares despite repeated government campaigns to crack down on the problem and tough punishments handed out to those involved.
In 2008, at least six children died and nearly 300,000 fell ill from drinking powdered milk laced with melamine, an industrial compound added to fool inspectors by giving misleadingly high results in protein tests.