2017-05-15 11:03:41

A farmer, a cook, and a teenager who thought he had found the perfect gift for his girlfriend all recently found themselves in police custody for using or growing opium poppies.

Customers at a small restaurant in central China’s Hunan province were served extra-potent noodle soups in the past few weeks after the owner added opium poppy pods to the recipe. A patron who had just finished breakfast tested positive after a urine test, and police detained the restaurant’s owner on May 11, according to a WeChat account run by local law enforcement.

Though the practice was outlawed in 1991, cooks continue to spike their soups and hot pots with poppy powder and poppy pods, both of which contain low amounts of opiates such as morphine and codeine. While it is unclear whether small amounts of poppy make a restaurant’s food addictive, this often seems to be the aim of certain unscrupulous chefs.

In 2016, a campaign to curb the use of illegal additives by China’s Food and Drug Administration identified 35 restaurants across China, including a popular hot pot chain in Beijing, accusing them of using opium poppies in their dishes.

The campaign against culinary opiates dates back to the early 1990s, when 95 food stands in Luoyang, Henan province, were found to either use or sell poppy pods. The additive was then banned in 1991 by the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Health (since renamed the National Health and Family Planning Commission) — though cases have continued to crop up throughout the country. Since 2013 the use of poppies has been handled under criminal law, after a reinterpretation of the law by the Supreme People’s Court.

Individuals are also forbidden from planting their own poppies. A farmer in Zigong, in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, was recently found to have been growing 350 opium poppies as a palliative measure against his coughing and arthritis. The poppies were uprooted by local police and the farmer was detained, according to state-owned China News Service on Monday.

And in 2015, a 75-year-old woman in the northwestern province of Shaanxi was sentenced to one year in prison for growing more than 600 illegal poppies next to her home.

Recently, a 19-year-old man surnamed Zou was detained by local police in Anhui province, eastern China, for growing some 130 poppies in his yard. Zou had planned to offer the plants to his 17-year-old girlfriend as a birthday present, according to a local newspaper report from May 9.

Zou’s transgression was not handled as a criminal case because fewer than 500 plants were involved. He had planned to give his girlfriend 111 plants, choosing that number because it sounds similar in Chinese to the phrase “all my heart.” Fortunately for Zou, he had declined the advice of a friend to plant 999 poppies — a number that symbolizes everlasting love.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A police officer prepares to dispose of poppy pods in Haozhou, Anhui province, June 26, 2005. Zhang Yanlin/VCG)