Published: May 30, 2007
This article follows my two previous posts-
-“Tainted Chinese Imports Common”
-“From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine”
SHANGHAI, May 29 — The former director of China’s top food and drug safety agency was sentenced to death on Tuesday after pleading guilty to corruption and accepting bribes, the state-controlled news media reported.
Zheng Xiaoyu was the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration from its founding in 1998 until mid-2005, when he was removed from his post. He was detained in February in a government investigation of the agency, which is supposed to be China’s food and drug watchdog. Two other top agency officials have also been detained.
Mr. Zheng, 62, received the unusually harsh sentence amid heightened concern about the quality and safety of China’s food and drug system after several scandals involving tainted food and phony drugs.
China is also under mounting pressure to overhaul its food export controls after two Chinese companies were accused this year of shipping contaminated pet food ingredients to the United States, setting off one of the largest pet food recalls in United States history.
China’s regulators are also coming under scrutiny after diethylene glycol, a toxic chemical sometimes used in antifreeze, ended up in cough syrup and toothpaste in Latin America. In Panama, more than 100 people died last year after consuming cough medicine laced with diethylene glycol, which was shipped from China mislabeled as a harmless syrup.
The incidents pose a huge threat to China’s growing food and drug exports and have already led to international calls for new testing and screening methods for Chinese-made goods.
The problems are more serious in China because tens of thousands of people are sickened or killed every year as a result of rampant counterfeiting of drugs, and tainted and substandard food and drugs.
For instance, last year 11 people died in China after being treated with an injection tainted by a poisonous chemical. Six people died and 80 others fell ill after taking an antibiotic that had been produced, according to government regulators, with a “substandard disinfectant.”
Small drug makers in China have long been accused of manufacturing phony or substandard drugs and marketing them to the nation’s hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. And mass poisonings involving tainted food products are common.
The Chinese government has stepped up its patrols in recent weeks, announcing measures aimed at strengthening food and drug safety and cracking down on counterfeiting operations.
On Tuesday, the government said it was preparing to release its first regulation on nationwide food recalls. It also said it would crack down on food products that are being illegally exported, bypassing food inspections.
As for Mr. Zheng, the government said that as director of the Food and Drug Administration, he took bribes worth about $850,000 in exchange for approving drug production licenses.
Worried that many of those drugs may be substandard, China is reviewing more than 170,000 production licenses the agency issued in the past decade.
It is unclear whether or when Mr. Zheng will be executed. In some cases, death sentences for officials are commuted.