China jails employees of US food firm OSI Group over meat scandal

Ten employees of OSI Group were convicted of packaging out-of-date and substandard meat as new product.
Ten employees of OSI Group were convicted of packaging out-of-date and substandard meat as new product.PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (AFP) - A Chinese court on Monday (Feb 1) jailed six employees of a United States company which supplied fast food outlets including KFC and McDonald's with sub-standard meat in a high-profile scandal.

Ten employees of OSI Group were convicted of packaging out-of-date and substandard meat as new product, a court in the commercial hub Shanghai said on an official social media account.

The case highlighted the risks of foreign firms attempting to profit from rapidly growing demand for meat in China, where lax legal enforcement is often the cause of lurid food safety scandals.

OSI staff marked products with false expiration dates to "retrieve economic losses", the court said. It sentenced Australian national Yang Liqun, general manager of OSI China's deep processing department, to three years in jail followed by deportation.

Yang was also fined 100,000 yuan by the court, while two branches of OSI in Shanghai and the northern province of Hebei were each fined 1.2 million yuan.

Five Chinese OSI employees were jailed for up to two years and eight months, the court said. Four others received suspended sentences.

The scandal came to light in 2014 when a Shanghai television station showed workers on the production line scooping meat off the floor and putting it back into processing machinery.

China has seen a series of scandals over food safety, but the case shook consumers since Western chain restaurants were widely seen as upholding higher standards.

McDonald's said its sales in China, a key growth market, were hit by frenzied media coverage at the time. OSI apologised over the scandal.

The China office of Illinois-based OSI could not immediately be reached for comment.