Friday, November 27, 2009

China Executes Corrupt Food and Drug Agency Head

http://www.bintulu.org/news/2009/11/24/china-executes-head-food-drug-agency.php


China executes the former head of its food and drug agency

Posted by Editorial Team on Nov 24th, 2009 and filed under World News.


Mother of baby who died from poisoned formula weeps as she shows photo.



China executed its former top food and drug regulator on Tuesday for taking bribes to approve untested medicine, as the Beijing leadership scrambled to show that it was serious about improving the safety of Chinese products.


The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court carried out the death sentence against Zheng Xiaoyu, 62, the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration, shortly after the country’s Supreme Court rejected his final appeal.

Zheng, who had appealed his May 29 sentence on the grounds that it was “too severe” and that he had confessed to the bribery charges against him, became the first ministerial-level official put to death since 2000 and only the fourth since China opened it doors to the outside world nearly 30 years ago.

The official Xinhua press agency announced the execution but did not say how Zheng was killed. In most cases, the court police execute prisoners by shooting them in the back of the head, though recently the police have also used lethal injections.

China carries out more court-ordered executions than the rest of the world combined, according to human rights groups. But even by local standards, the sentence against Zheng was unusually harsh and its execution uncommonly swift.

The country’s Supreme Court has recently made a highly publicized effort to show that it carefully reviews all death sentences and that it has restricted the power of local courts to impose that penalty. But Zheng’s case appears to have served a political purpose, allowing senior leaders to show that they have begun confronting the country’s poor product safety record. Shoddy or dangerous goods, including drugs, pet food and car tires, have damaged its reputation abroad, especially in the United States.

China is the world’s largest exporter of consumer products, and tainted goods represent a small fraction of the country’s more than $1 trillion in annual exports. But officials clearly worry that protectionist forces in the United States could use the spate of quality problems to restrict trade.

At the same time Zheng was executed, representatives of the country’s leading food and drug regulatory bodies held a joint news conference to emphasize their determination to crack down on fake and counterfeit food and medicine.

After weeks of denying serious problems or accusing foreign forces of exaggerating the issue, officials have recently begun to strike a less defensive tone. One senior official acknowledged that the food and drug safety network still allowed too many unsafe goods to slip through and said that at the moment the trend “is not promising.”

“As a developing country, China’s current food and drug safety situation is not very satisfactory because supervision of food and drug safety started late. Its foundation is weak so the supervision of food and drug safety is not easy,” said Yan Jiangying, deputy policy director of the State Food and Drug Administration, the agency Zheng headed.

Asked about the death sentence, Yan said, “Corruption in the food and drug authority has brought shame to the nation. What we will have to learn from the experience is to improve our work and emphasize public safety.”

Regulators said that their ability to monitor food and drug purity would greatly increase by 2010, when they enhance their ability to respond to accidents and establish a national product recall system. The authorities said that inspectors would start shifting posts more often to prevent corruption and that they would check a wide range of goods more frequently to ferret out fakes.

But they acknowledged that they face challenges. China has some200 million farms, many of them less than an acre in size. It hasnearly 450,000 food processing companies, nearly 80 percent with 10employees or fewer, said Lin Wei, a senior official at the GeneralAdministration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

It has nearly 450,000 food processing companies, nearly 80 percent with 10 employees or fewer, said Lin Wei, a senior official at the National Administration of Quality, Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

“This is our national condition,” Lin said. “It is our hope that by 2010 we can reduce the number of small food workshops by 50 percent and effectively curb law breaking and counterfeiting.”

Officials acknowledge that responsibility for food and drug safety involves as many as 17 government agencies, ranging from the Ministry of Health, which sets hygienic standards, to the Public Security Bureau, which has power to investigate criminal cases.

This fragmented authority has led to a proliferation of licensing fees and fines. But it has also allowed local officials to protect factories in their domain and created overlapping jurisdictions in which no single agency exercises ultimate responsibility, Chinese regulatory experts say.

On Tuesday, officials asserted that the five agencies that have the most direct, front-line responsibility for food and drug safety have stepped up their coordination.

Officials also appeared worried that the safety scare could impact attendance or otherwise limit the boost to its economic development and global prestige it hoped to get from holding the Olympic Games in Beijing next year. On Tuesday, officials outlined measures they have taken to guarantee clean food and water supplies for athletes and spectators at the games.

Fears abroad over Chinese-made products were sparked last year by the deaths of dozens of people in Panama who took cough syrup that contained diethylene glycol, a poisonous chemical, that was imported from China.

The Chinese manufacturer had labeled the item as glycerin, commonly used as a harmless ingredient in drugs.

Chinese-made pet food tainted with the chemical melamine caused the deaths of cats and dogs in the United States this year.

U.S. regulators have since turned away drug-tainted seafood products, juice containing unsafe additives and toy trains colored with lead paint.

The United States and several other countries have banned Chinese-made toothpaste that contains diethylene glycol. No reports of health problems stemming from the product have emerged, however, and China allows the use of deithylene glycol in toothpaste in small quantities.

Zheng became China’s top drug regulator in 1994, when he was named to the top position of what was then called the State Pharmaceutical Administration. In 2003, the agency became the State Food and Drug Administration and acquired responsibility for overseeing the nation’s food supply as well, in an attempt by the government to consolidate regulatory authority into one agency.

He was removed in June 2005 for reasons that were not specified at the time. His ouster followed a period of bureaucratic infighting over the powers of the food and drug regulator, whose expanded responsibilities encroached on the purview and revenue sources of rival departments.

Late last year he was charged with accepting $850,000 in bribes to grant approval for hundreds of medicines. State media said that his agency approved 137 drugs that had not submitted proper applications, and that six of those drugs turned out to be entirely fake.

The list of drugs approved by Zheng included an antibiotic blamed for at least 10 deaths in China, state media said.

Continuing the crackdown, a Beijing court on Friday meted out another capital sentence to Zheng’s deputy, Cao Wenzhuang. Cao was given a two-year reprieve, however, which often results in commutation to life in prison. — NYT

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