The lawyers have at last got involved in last year’s product safety scare.
Two Chinese businesses and a U.S. company have been indicted by the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas City in connection with tainted pet food incidents that killed dozens of animals last year, triggering the scare. These are criminal not civil indictments — serious stuff.
Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., a Chinese processor of plant proteins based in Jiangsu province, and Suzhou Textiles, Silk, Light Industrial Products, Arts and Crafts I/E Co., an export broker, were charged in two separate but related indictments on 13 counts of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce and 13 counts of introducing misbranded food into interstate commerce.
The indictment also names Mao Linzhun, Xuzhou Anying Biologic’s owner, and Chen Zhen Hao, president of Suzhou Textiles.
Sally Quing Miller, a Chinese national, and her husband, Stephen S. Miller, the owners of Las Vegas-based ChemNutra, were charged with 13 counts of introducing of adulterated food into interstate commerce, 13 counts of introduction of misbranded food into interstate commerce and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
According to the Associated Press report:
The indictments allege that Suzhou Textiles, an export broker, mislabeled 800 metric tons of wheat gluten tainted with the toxic chemical melamine to avoid inspection in China. Xuzhou then did not properly declare the contaminated product it shipped to the U.S. as a material to be used in food, the indictment says. It also says the shipment was falsely declared to the Chinese government in a way that would avoid a mandatory inspection of the company’s plants.
According to the indictment, ChemNutra picked up the melamine-tainted product at a port of entry in Kansas City (which is why the case is being heard there), then sold it to makers of various brands of pet foods. The indictment alleges that the melamine was added to make the gluten meet the required standard for protein content specified in the contract between Suzhou and ChemNutra.
Pet food manufacturers recalled more than 150 brands of dog and cat food across North America in 2007, following reports of thousands of cats and dogs suffering kidney failure or other illness after eating tainted products. Canada’s Menu Foods was hardest hit, recalling 60 million packages of pet food. Consumer reports received by the FDA suggested that about 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs died after eating contaminated pet food, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Dan Harris, over at the China Law Blog, has made an early stab at what the test of criminal liability might be in these cases. It remains to be seen who will get a day in court, but ChemNutra’s Millers seem a fair bet. Whether the Chinese companies’ executives show up will largely depend on whether Beijing decides it is in its interests to hunker down (the form bet) or make a show of being a good global citizen (the long shot).
Either way, it promises to paint an ugly picture of the China trade for China-bashers in the U.S. to glom onto.