Over the past few years, changes have been made regarding product liability in China – particularly with food. This is because in 2008, it was found that the Sanlu Group, a Chinese dairy company, were adding melamine to milk power, which is a chemical used in making plastics.
By November of that year, there were 300,000 victims suffering as a result of the scandal, with six infants dying from kidney stones and other kidney damage, and around 54,000 babies hospitalised. The chemical had been added deceptively in order to allegedly “increase protein content.”
This sparked a governmental inquiry, and 21 other companies were also found selling diary products containing melamine. Since then, Chinese consumers have turned to non-Chinese distributors to buy their dairy, making China one of the biggest diary importers in the world. The country was dropped by many as a source of dairy exports, and they faced many criminal prosecutions. Two people were executed, with another given a suspended death penalty, three were given life imprisonment, and seven local governmental officials were fired or forced to resign.
The World Health Organisation called it one of the largest food safety scandals to have happened in many years, as lives were put at risk in order to gain profitability through cheaper means of production and ingredients. In October 2008, traces of melamine were also discovered in eggs and possibly other food, caused by the addition of melamine to animal feed.
There have been a number of incidents involving the combination of melamine and food products, which has been known to cause renal and urinary problems in both humans and animals. Its use in food production has been banned universally.
Since 2008, China has made strict adjustments to its product liability laws in order to protect its consumers. For example, a Food Safety Law was introduced in 2009, which included protection against the addition of substances in foods that are hazardous to health, the production or trading of foods with pathogenic micro-organisms, and the trading in the meat of any animals which died from illness, poisoning or unidentified causes.
On 10 October 2013, draft amendments to the Food Safety Law were released. They proposed stronger regulations, harsher punishments and increased financial penalties, however are yet to be put in place. The Tort Liability Law was also introduced in 2012, which stated that any party in the supply chain, ranging from the manufacturer to the retailer, could be exposed to tort liability.
The past decade has seen an increase in product recalls and liability claims regarding the food industry because of new legislation. Importers are warned to be aware of their suppliers, and manufactures to adhere to the laws regarding ingredients and production.