May 29, 2007
China Sentences Former Drug Regulator to Death
By DAVID BARBOZA
SHANGHAI, May 29 The former director of Chinas 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
Zheng Xiaoyu, who was commissioner of the Food and
Drug Administration of China from its founding in 1998
until mid-2005, was detained last February in a
government investigation into corruption at the
The 62-year-old former commissioner received the
unusually harsh sentence amid growing concerns about
the quality and safety of Chinas food and drug system
following several scandals here involving tainted food
and phony drugs.
China is now under mounting pressure to overhaul its
food export controls after two Chinese companies were
accused earlier this year of shipping contaminated pet
food ingredients to the United States, resulting in
one of the largest pet food recalls in American
The government is also investigating how diethylene
glycol, a toxic chemical sometimes used to make
antifreeze, ended up in cough syrup and toothpaste in
In Panama, more than 100 people died last year after
consuming cough medicine laced with diethylene glycol,
which had been shipped from China mislabeled as
And last week, Chinese made toothpaste tainted with
diethylene glycol was pulled off store shelves in
Panama, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua over
The pet food and toothpaste recalls are beginning to
pose a serious threat to Chinas growing food and drug
exports and have already led to international calls
for new testing and screening methods for Chinese made
But the trial of Mr. Zheng suggests that the problems
in China are even more serious.
Every year, thousands of people here are sickened or
killed because of rampant counterfeiting and tainted
food and drugs.
For instance, last year 11 people died in China after
being treated with an injection tainted by a fake
chemical. Also, six people died and 80 others fell ill
after taking an antibiotic that was produced with what
regulators later said was a substandard
Small Chinese drug makers have long been accused of
manufacturing phony or substandard drugs and marketing
them to the nations hospitals and pharmacies.
Mass food poisonings involving tainted food products
Just this week, the state-controlled news media in
Shanghai said the citys food and drug agency had
recalled drugs made by three companies that were not
registered as drug makers. Also this week, In southern
Chinas Guangdong province, the state media said 56
people fell ill after eating tainted meat.
The Chinese government has stepped up its efforts in
recent weeks, announcing a series of measures aimed at
strengthening food and drug safety and cracking down
The government said Tuesday that it was preparing to
release its first regulation on nationwide food
The government also said it would initiate new rules
to stop food products from being illegally exported,
bypassing food inspections.
In announcing the death sentence today, Beijings No.
1 Intermediate Peoples Court said Mr. Zheng was
convicted of taking bribes and dereliction of duty,
the state-controlled Xinhua News agency reported.
Xinhua said the court had decided that the death
sentence was appropriate given the huge amount of
bribes involved and the great damage inflicted on the
country and the public by Zhengs dereliction of
The court accused Mr. Zheng of accepting about
$850,000 in bribes in exchange for approving drug
Worried that some of those drugs may be substandard,
China is now reviewing more than 170,000 production
licenses issued by food and drug agency over the past
Some drug experts in China agreed that Mr. Zheng
deserved the death sentence because abuses in the drug
industry became widespread during his tenure.
The death penalty wouldnt be excessive punishment
for Zheng, said Wang Yigao, a professor at the Hunan
Academy of Sciences. Zheng was simply using the power
given by the state to pursue his personal ambition.
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