- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2007

BEIJING — China must step up its fight against shoddy food and drugs and the corrupt officials who have let them flourish or it faces social unrest and a further tarnished image abroad, senior party and regulatory officials said.

The comments came at a weekend State Food and Drug Administration seminar where officials were warned to learn from the example set by their former boss, who was sentenced to death for taking bribes from drug companies.

Food and Drug Commissioner Shao Mingli likened the overhaul of his agency and the fight against China’s substandard and sometimes deadly food and drugs to a pitched battle.

“We must face the fact that there are still some problems which cannot be ignored,” Mr. Shao was quoted as saying in a transcript posted on the agency’s Web site. “Some areas are not fully aware of the importance, hardship and complexity of this work. They fear the difficulties and suffer battle fatigue.”

China’s pharmaceutical industry is lucrative but poorly regulated. Some companies try to cash in by substituting fake or substandard ingredients.

Fears abroad over Chinese-made products were sparked last year by the deaths of dozens of people in Panama who took medicine contaminated with diethylene glycol imported from China. It was passed off as harmless glycerin.

A Panamanian prosecutor has said that tests show at least 94 persons have died after taking medicine contaminated with diethylene glycol since July 2006, with 293 additional deaths under investigation.

In North America, pet food containing Chinese wheat gluten tainted with the chemical melamine was blamed for the deaths of dogs and cats.

Since then, U.S. authorities have turned away or recalled toxic fish, juice containing unsafe color additives and popular toy trains decorated with lead paint.

“Food security problems have impeded Chinese agri-products and food many times in international trade and damaged our national credibility and image,” Sun Xianze, a food supervision officer with the State Food and Drug Administration, said at the conference in Beijing.

He cited a list of domestic food scares from the past year, including drug-tainted fish; banned Sudan dye used to color egg yolks red; and pork tainted with clenbuterol, a banned feed additive.

More such cases were likely to occur and would “not only affect the healthy development of the industry but could also impact local economies and social stability,” Mr. Sun said.

Seminar attendees were told to “draw profound lessons” from the former agency director, Zheng Xiaoyu, who was sentenced to death in May for taking bribes to approve substandard medicines, including an antibiotic blamed for at least 10 fatalities in China.

Qu Wanxiang, the vice minister of supervision for the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection, said corruption like Zheng’s “shook the government’s regulatory foundation and damaged the government’s image.”

His comments were posted yesterday on the State Food and Drug Administration Web site.

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