The verdict against the Shanghai and Hubei units of Husi Foods was partly the result of a “harmful smear campaign driven by state-owned media,” OSI Group said in a statement.
It added: “After seventeen months of legal proceedings, detainment of Husi employees for as long as seventeen months… as well as the denial of entry of press and senior OSI leaders to all court proceedings, the court of jurisdiction has reached an unjust verdict.”
While the company had “made every effort to follow firm instructions to silently cooperate on the advice [that] it would lead to a fair conclusion”, it can now “no longer accept injustices against our people and our reputation,” it went on to say.
In July 2014, Shanghai food safety authorities raided the Husi plant in response to a video sting by Dragon TV that showed undercover footage of employees repackaging expired chicken and beef. The company supplied fast-food chains in China and Japan including KFC and McDonald’s.
This week’s judgement by Jiading District People’s Court awarded sentences of up to three years in prison for the Husi workers, ruling that it had seen “ample evidence” that the defendants had passed off the meat as being acceptable. Both units were also ordered to pay fines of RMB1.2m (US$182,000).
The court said that the two OSI units had found themselves with a surplus of meat after customers had returned and cancelled substandard orders, leading the defendants to decide to repackage and sell the meat to avoid losses.
In 2013, staff repackaged steaks that had previously been defrosted and treated, and added new 180-day “best before” dates before they were resold, the court revealed as one of several examples of malpractices.
In the wake of the sting, OSI Group chairman Sheldon Lavin offered a heartfelt apology, and said that what had happened was “completely unacceptable”.
In a statement issued on July 13, 2014, he said: “I will not try and defend it or explain it. It was terribly wrong, and I am appalled that it ever happened in the company that I own.
“On behalf of Husi and OSI, I sincerely apologise to all of our customers in China. We will bear the responsibility of these missteps, and will make sure that they never happen again. That is my personal commitment and that of our organisation.”
Over the course of several subsequent statements, the company reiterated its confidence in the Chinese legal system, yet following this week’s judgement, it has slammed the verdict as “inconsistent with the facts and evidence that were presented in the court proceedings.”
OSI said: “After an actual investigation was completed, all authorities involved have recognised that this case has never been about food safety. The distortion of facts and evidence by Dragon TV and the general media clearly influenced the verdict released today.”
The company said it is considering appealing the ruling and pursuing a legal suit against Dragon TV, which broadcast “sensationalised media reports… [and] made false and incomplete accusations that ignored facts and Chinese law.”
After doing business in China for more than 25 years, OSI said that it maintained the highest standards in the industry.
“We will continue to do so in our current operations, as well as seek a re-examination of the facts in the Shanghai and Hebei Husi Foods case.”