Many Chinese angry over product safety

The Baltimore Sun

BEIJING -- The heightened anger and fear felt by the average Chinese over the safety of food, medicine and other consumer products were vividly on display here yesterday after the execution of the former head of China's food and drug safety agency.

Within hours of an announcement that Zheng Xiaoyu, 62, had been put to death for taking bribes from pharmaceutical companies, China's Internet lit up.

"Good job!" said an anonymous posting on Sina.com, a major Chinese web portal.

"He deserves it," said another writing as Lgzxm2005.

"We can't even count how many people Zheng has killed," chimed in a third.

In China's one-party state, with its nascent legal system and heightened concern for social stability, justice can be swift, particularly in highly political cases. Zheng, who headed the State Food and Drug Administration from 1998 to 2005, was convicted of taking bribes in late May, granted an appeal in June and executed in early July.

Details on how the sentence was carried out were not available. In recent years, China has made greater use of lethal injection, reducing its traditional use of a bullet to the back of the head.

Yet even by Chinese standards, Zheng's punishment was harsh, reflecting a wellspring of anger among ordinary Chinese concerning their own health and the growing international fallout.

In recent months, a series of safety scandals has tarnished the nation's exports.

Zheng was charged with taking bribes worth about $850,000 and dereliction of duty. During his tenure, the administration reportedly approved six medicines that turned out to be fake, including an antibiotic blamed for at least 10 deaths in China.

In North America this year, authorities have blocked or recalled toxic seafood, juice made with unsafe color additives and toys coated with lead paint. This followed the deaths of several dogs and cats last year who ate pet food containing Chinese wheat gluten tainted with a fire retardant.

In Panama last year, dozens of people died after ingesting medicine contaminated with highly toxic diethylene glycol, an ingredient in brake fluid, that originated in China.

"I'm just worried all these scandals will hurt China's reputation overseas and foreigners won't want to buy our products," said Zhao Lingchen, a 27-year old marketing employee. "It's like being bitten by a snake and being afraid of a rope for the next 10 years."

Mark Magnier writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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