Zheng Xiaoyu, director of China’s State Food and Drug Administration from 1998 to 2005, was sentenced to death for taking bribes totaling $832,000 in cash and gifts in exchange for approving unsafe medicines, according to a report by USA Today. The conviction also included dereliction of duty. The death sentence was handed down Tuesday in a Beijing court after claiming that Zheng, 62, “greatly undermined…the efficiency of China’s drug monitoring and supervision, endangered public life and health and had a very negative social impact.”
The court said Zheng approved drugs and medical devices from eight pharmaceutical companies in exchange for benefits. Zheng’s sentence must be reviewed by a higher court and approved by China’s highest judicial panel before he can be executed.
The China state news agency, Xinhua, said that 10 patients died from an antibiotic that was approved under Zheng’s watch and was recalled from the market last year. According to Xinhua, Zheng also approved six types of fake drugs while he directed the agency. Jiang Yu, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, “The Chinese government attaches great importance to the safety and security of food. We stand ready to work with the international community to safeguard the quality and reputation of the Chinese food industry.”
Chinese bloggers and Internet chatters have been outraged in recent years over the numerous deaths from fake drugs and food products tainted by industrial chemicals. Writers have demanded a stiff sentence for Zheng. Luo Yunbo, head of the Food Science and Nutrition Engineering Institute at the Chinese Agricultural University, said, “I thought he would get life in jail, but he deserved the death sentence.” Qiu Feng, a columnist for China Newsweek magazine wrote on the Southcn.com website that the sentence will satisfy the public’s need to vent their anger and resentment, but will not curb the tide of corrupt and embezzling officials.
Changes to China’s food safety agency are coming as officials announced a food recall system and a blacklist program that are intended to improve the quality of China’s food and drug supply. The food and drug agency plans to blacklist food producers who violate rules, including those that used an industrial chemical found in medicines, toothpaste, pet food, and animal feed. That industrial chemical was responsible for dozens of deaths including 51 in Panama alone, and the unconfirmed deaths of thousands of pets in the Untied States.
Despite the tens of millions of dollars Beijing will spend on China’s food testing system, and the 300 agricultural inspection centers across the nation, officials are still challenged by the huge scale of China’s food industry. Yang Shuming, head of the quality testing institute of China’s Ministry of Agriculture says China has shown improvements in food quality. According to Yang, 95% of animal feed now passes inspections, up from 20% since 1988.