A Chinese court handed down three-year gaol sentences yesterday to two men who produced and distributed rice containing carcinogens.

The rice was processed by unauthorised dealers Chen Limin and Wu Shaohui, who were also fined 30,000 yuan (US$3,620) by the court in the capital of South China’s Guangdong Province. The aflatoxin content of the rice in question was far higher than the law permits, endangering liver health. Aflatoxin is a major cause of liver cancer.

Overall, 209 tons of bad rice worth 220,000 yuan was confiscated by police last July when they inspected Chen’s Gangxing Rice Factory and Wu’s Yongkang Rice Factory. Defendant Chen was reported by the China Daily newspaper as saying sanitary examinations were unnecessary as he believed rice to be fit for consumption as long as there is no sand or chaff in it. Counsel for the defence, Luo Shuqiang denied the correctness of the court’s decision, saying that was as yet no specific prescription of just how much aflatoxin results in cancer.

As they begin their sentences, both defendants plan to appeal to a higher court. Meanwhile experts have urged the government to impose stronger management of the grain market to ensure quality and protect consumer health.