China sentences former food and drugs chief to death (30/5/2007)

NOTE: As some have noted, it's not just China that's in the middle of a food and drug safety crisis, exemplified by deadly scandals like Vioxx and Avandia and the U.S.'s massively adulterated food supply. The penalty in China is death, in America it's business as usual.


China sentences former food and drugs chief to death
Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Guardian Unlimited, May 29 2007

The disgraced head of China's food and drug agency was sentenced to death today amid a wave of consumer safety scandals that have rippled across the world.

Zheng Xiaoyu was found guilty of accepting 6.5m yuan (GBP433,000) worth of bribes from pharmaceutical companies to expedite the approval of new drugs.

Underscoring the state's determination to crackdown on corruption and consumer safety violations, he is the most senior official to receive the death penalty in seven years.

The government fears a collapse of consumer confidence after a series of deadly food and drug scandals, often linked with lax regulation and bribe taking. With more and more Chinese products filling shelves overseas, several cases have had international repercussions.

For most of the past decade, Zheng was the face of the government's consumer safety policy. A former pharmaceutical company executive, he was appointed the first director of the state food and drug administration when it was established in 1998.

His powerful agency controlled the approval process for all new drugs and was supposed to coordinate the licensing of food and pharmaceutical factories.

According to local media, one antibiotic approved by the agency killed 10 patients last year before it was withdrawn. In 2005 - the year Zheng was arrested - the health ministry reported 34,000 food-related illnesses.

Given China's 1.3 billion population, this is not a huge number. The Beijing No 1 intermediate people's court said Zheng's main crime was to have abused his position to secure benefits for himself and his familiy.

"Zheng was supposed to use the power given to him by the state and the people seriously and honestly, but instead he has ignored their vital interests by taking the bribes," the Xinhua news agency quoted the court as saying. "This has threatened the safety of people's life and health and has caused an extremely bad social impact."

The unusually harsh penalty may have been handed down to reassure foreign as well as Chinese consumers that the government is taking action.

Earlier this month, Australia, Panama and the Dominican Republic recalled thousands of tubes of Chinese-made toothpaste that allegedly contained dangerous levels of diethylene glycol, a toxin normally used to cool engines.

In April, the US government blamed tainted pet food from China for the fatal poisoning of several dogs and cats. Three US states have since banned imports of catfish from China because they contained an unauthorised antibiotic.

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