China orders death penalty in deadly food scandals

China's supreme court has ordered judges across the country to issue harsher sentences, including the death penalty, to people convicted of food safety violations as the government struggles to clean up the nation's food supply after repeated scandals.

The Supreme People's Court said courts should impose longer jail terms and larger fines on people found guilty of violating food safety regulations and that death sentences should be given in cases where people died. The directive was announced Friday in a report by the official Xinhua News Agency that the high court posted on its website.

The directive runs counter to efforts by China's top court and legislature to reduce the use of the death penalty. China executes more people than all other countries combined, but its leadership is in the midst of a new campaign to stamp out persisting contamination of food products — from tainted baby milk to dirty cooking oil — that have stirred public anger.

As part of the push, the government has recently encouraged more openness in reporting food problems in the tightly controlled media. The Supreme People's Court notice said information relating to food safety cases should be made public in a timely manner and urged open trials when dealing with major cases.

The notice also urged severe punishments for government officials who take bribes and shield people who commit food safety crimes, as well as harsher financial penalties for manufacturers who produce tainted food items.

In cases where food scandals have caused deaths, Chinese law says those convicted should be sentenced to more than 10 years in jail, life in prison or death.