Guest article by Matthew J. Van Den Hooven and Ji Ran
The baby milk (melamine) scandal happened in 2008 in China and took four infants lives. It injured over fifty thousand more infants who may continue to suffer the effects of this poison milk for the rest of their lives. A series of actions were taken by the Chinese government to punish the companies involved in this crisis, but the baby milk industry in China continues to suffer distrust from consumers, and for good reason. In 2013, over 580 dogs and cats died from contaminated pet foods. Increasing this crisis of confidence in the Chinese regulatory system are the latest reports of Chinese kindergarteners drugged in Xi’an and several other cities by those responsible for their care.
In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for protecting citizens from unsafe food and one such act that protects us is the Safe Food for Canadians Act (S.C. 2012, c. 24). The Chinese government needs to create and properly enforce laws that make companies to properly source raw materials and remove corruption from quality control mechanisms. This will help avoid tragedies like the one that occurred in 2008. If there is no reliable mechanism to ensure that food is fit for human or animal consumption, then it is only a matter of time until a similar situation arises.
One way to create significant internal motivation for companies to produce products fit for consumption is to enhance the monetary awards that are given by courts to injured parties. This would create a strong financial disincentive to utilizing cheaper but potentially hazardous ingredients. This, in addition to better quality controls and enforcement, should help reduce the amount of potentially hazardous food products that are consumed as a result.
In the meantime, products that were produced in countries with good legal and quality control systems, like Canada, Australia, the United States, and the European Union, will continue to enjoy a higher degree of confidence. As a result, products and companies from these regions will enjoy increased demand from Canadian and Chinese consumers. Reasonable, fair laws and reliable, consistently enforced regulations lead to more trustworthy and safer food.
Matthew J. Van Den Hooven is a Vancouver-based lawyer and notary public offering a variety of legal services. More information on his firm can be found at his website here.