Ex-Chief of China Food and Drug Unit Sentenced to Death for Graft

DAVID BARBOZA
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.

Tainted Chinese Imports Common – Rick Weiss

Posted by Sophie Beach 2007-05-19, 09:20 PM World

Following news that poisoned toothpaste imported to Panama may have come from China, the Washington Post offers another report on the ubiquity of contaminated imports from China, which U.S. officials have done little to stem. Last month alone, more than 1,000 counterfeit or tainted food, medicines, cosmetics or dietary supplements were detained at U.S. ports:

For years, U.S. inspection records show, China has flooded the United States with foods unfit for human consumption. And for years, FDA inspectors have simply returned to Chinese importers the small portion of those products they caught — many of which turned up at U.S. borders again, making a second or third attempt at entry.

Now the confluence of two events — the highly publicized contamination of U.S. chicken, pork and fish with tainted Chinese pet food ingredients and this week’s resumption of high-level economic and trade talks with China — has activists and members of Congress demanding that the United States tell China it is fed up. [Full text]

Read the rest of this entry »

From Pet Food to Cough Syrup and now Toothpaste, are we safe?

By WALT BOGDANICH and RENWICK McLEAN
Published: May 19, 2007

Can we really be sure we are safe? First it was pet food that was found to poisonous due to an ingredient “wheat gluten” from China, then “diethylene glycol” an ingredient found in *cough syrup* which thankfully has not reached the U.S.A. (as far as we know) and now the same ingredient “diethylene glycol” has been found in toothpaste, again not here.

All have one common denominator – CHINA. Just how safe are we? The cough syrup gained entrance into Panama via China covering up the ingredient “diethylene glycol” and listing it as glycerin. What is next and are we safe?

Diethylene glycol, a poisonous ingredient in some antifreeze, has been found in 6,000 tubes of toothpaste in Panama, and customs officials there said yesterday that the product appeared to have originated in China.
“Our preliminary information is that it came from China, but we don’t know that with certainty yet,” said Daniel Delgado Diamante, Panama’s director of customs. “We are still checking all the possible imports to see if there could be other shipments.”

Some of the toothpaste, which arrived several months ago in the free trade zone next to the Panama Canal, was re-exported to the Dominican Republic in seven shipments, customs officials said. A newspaper in Australia reported yesterday that one brand of the toothpaste had been found on supermarket shelves there and had been recalled.

Diethylene glycol is the same poison that the Panamanian government inadvertently mixed into cold medicine last year, killing at least 100 people. Records show that in that episode the poison, falsely labeled as glycerin, a harmless syrup, also originated in China.

There is no evidence that the tainted toothpaste is in the United States, according to American government officials.

Panamanian health officials said diethylene glycol had been found in two brands of toothpaste, labeled in English as Excel and Mr. Cool. The tubes contained diethylene glycol concentrations of between 1.7 percent and 4.6 percent, said Luis Martínez, a prosecutor who is looking into the shipments.

Health officials say they do not believe the toothpaste is harmful, because users spit it out after brushing, but they nonetheless took it out of circulation.

Mr. Martínez said at a recent news conference that the toothpaste lacked the required health certificates and had entered the market mixed in with products intended for animal consumption.

He said laboratory tests had found up to 4.6 percent diethylene glycol in tubes of Mr. Cool toothpaste. The Excel brand had 2.5 percent.

Miriam Rodríguez, a spokeswoman for the Health Ministry, said she knew of no one who had become sick from using the toothpaste.

Doug Arbesfeld, a spokesman for the United States Food and Drug Administration, said diethylene glycol was not approved for use in toothpaste. Though the F.D.A. has no evidence that the tainted toothpaste slipped into the United States, he added, “We are looking into the situation in Panama.”

Mr. Delgado, the director of Panamanian customs, said the Dominican authorities had been notified to be on the lookout for the suspect toothpaste.

In Panama City, a consumer notified the pharmacy and drugs section of the Health Ministry after seeing that diethylene glycol was listed as an ingredient in toothpaste at a store.

The ministry fined the store $25,000 and ordered it closed for not following proper procedures in putting products up for sale.

The Northern Star, a newspaper in the southeastern Australian city of Lismore, reported yesterday on its Web site that the Excel brand of toothpaste had been found in a chain of supermarkets and taken off the shelves immediately.

Two weeks ago, The New York Times reported that a Chinese factory not certified to make pharmaceutical ingredients had sold 46 barrels of syrup containing diethylene glycol that had been falsely labeled as 99.5 percent pure glycerin. That syrup passed through several trading companies before ending up in Panama, where it was mixed into 260,000 bottles of cold medicine.

At least 100 people died as a direct result, according to Dimas Guevara, a Panamanian prosecutor who is leading the investigation into the deaths.

Over the years, counterfeiters have found it financially advantageous to substitute diethylene glycol, a sweet-tasting syrup, for its chemical cousin glycerin, which is usually much more expensive.

Reference my post *From China to Panama, a Trail of Poisoned Medicine*

source: New York Times