China defends medical and food safety, denies full responsibility

The Baltimore Sun

BEIJING -- Chinese officials defended the nation's medical and food safety record yesterday and declined to take full responsibility for the presence of deadly chemicals found in cough syrups and toothpaste sold abroad.

The comments come as China faces mounting pressure after recent health-related scandals.

One of the most serious cases involves the use of an industrial solvent in cold medicines that is believed to have killed at least 51 people last year in Panama.

That, the Chinese say, is not entirely their fault. According to the results of a government investigation, two Chinese companies sold a chemical laced with diethylene glycol, an industrial solvent sometimes used in paint and antifreeze, to a business in Spain. The Chinese called the product "TD Glycerin," a misleading name that could be confused with glycerin, a harmless, more expensive sugar substitute.

But the Chinese clearly stated the product was not meant for medical consumption, their report said.

The Chinese also did not know the Spanish would resell the chemical in Panama, where it would be renamed "pure glycerin" and lengthen the expiration date from one to four years.

"The Panamanian business people are mainly responsible because they changed the scope of use and shelf life of this product," said Wei Chuanzhong, vice minister of the Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

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