'Our country has many food safety rules and laws, but there are still many transgressions and the main reason is that we have not clamped down hard enough,' said Wen Jiabao.
'Fines are too low. The money offenders stand to make is much more than the fines, which explains their temerity,' the premier told a meeting of government members and provincial officials to discuss the growing problem.
'We must therefore toughen the enforcement of the law and punish any food safety infringements according to the law,' he added, in extracts from a speech that were broadcast on national radio.
Wen's comments came as China faces increasing foreign pressure over the quality of its exports, with US President George W. Bush last week announcing increased efforts to intercept dangerous imports.
The country's export image has been severely tarnished in recent months by regular reports of shoddy or dangerous Chinese-made goods.
Reports in the United States of tainted pet foods, dangerous toys, drugs, fish, cosmetics and other products from China have led to a spate of recalls and bans there.
Wen stressed that Beijing took food safety seriously and had a 'responsible attitude' to the issue.
A top official said last week China had shut down companies involved in some of the highest-profile health scares involving Chinese-made goods and would take further steps to improve product safety.