The harsh sentence handed down to Gao Yanjun reflects authorities' efforts to crackdown on widespread chemical contamination of food and other products that has caused repeated health scares in China and blackened the reputation of the country's exports.
Gao was sentenced Saturday in the northern city of Jinzhou following the death last year of a man surnamed Sun who bought 5 yuan (75 cents) worth of pig intestine at his market stall and then ate it, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Authorities determined Sun had been poisoned. Another man who shared the intestine with Sun was hospitalized in serious condition.
Beginning in 2005, Gao had illegally added industrial nitrate usually used in fertilizer to meat to improve its color and texture, Xinhua said. There was no mention of any other victims.
Four others were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison alongside Gao, Xinhua said.
While industrial nitrates are poisonous, sodium nitrate and nitrite approved for human consumption are commonly added to food as preservatives and color-enhancers. Nitrate-related substances have been reported to cause cancer in animals, but there is no proof they do so in people.