In an investigation led by the State Administration of Market Regulation of Jiangsu province and the Food and Drug Administration of Beijing Daxing District, the firm was found guilty of violating China’s Food Safety Laws and was fined RMB$14m (US$2.07m) on Monday (Feb 11).
The firm’s contract manufacturer, Yancheng Golden Bee Food Technology, had added expired honey during the production process and falsified production dates since October last year, officials said.
A total of 2,284 bottles or boxes of adulterated honey sold under the labels “Yuan Mi”, “Xin Rui”, and “Yao Zhi Mi” flowed into the market since October last year, the company admitted in a recall statement.
The market regulator also revoked and banned Tong Ren Tang from applying for operation license in the bee industry for the next five years.
Fourteen senior executives were held responsible and faced severe disciplinary actions, including Mei Qun, the party chief and president of Tong Ren Tang Group, who was ordered to submit a confession of his mistakes to the market regulator. Five managers were demoted or sacked.
Tong Ren Tang, founded in Beijing during the Qing Dynasty in 1669 and listed on Shanghai Stock Exchange since 1997, is household name in China and enjoys significant presence overseas, including Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the US.
It was embroiled in the saga after local media Jiangsu TV exposed its unethical actions in December last year.
When questioned by reporters, an employee insisted that the expired honey would be recycled as feed to raise bees.
However, it was later revealed that the expired honey was sent to a raw material storage facility for repackaging and reselling, which prompted market regulators to intervene.
Tong Ren Tang was ordered to halt the sale of affected products, remove affected products from shelves, and to recall the affected products.
Around 3,300 bottles honey were confiscated from the company’s factory. Affected batpches were also removed from sales points located in seven provinces, namely Beijing, Shandong, Tianjin, Liaoning, Hebei, Sichuan, and Shanxi.
“The incident revealed the problem of the company exerting a lack of monitoring towards its partnering firms and contract manufacturers,” Tong Ren Tang said in a statement.
To ensure that the products are safe, Tong Ren Tang added that it had conducted another round of inspection on bottled honey produced by the contract manufacturer since October last year.
To step up product quality, it said it had arranged for a full inspection of production quality; ordered all contract manufacturers to stop production and restructure its operations.
In addition, it has also engaged third party consultancies to improve production quality.