The reputation of China’s booming export business took a real hit when contaminated products began killing people and pets around the world.
Americans began paying attention when Chinese products tainted with melamine turned up in pet food. Chinese toothpaste, fraudulently labeled to conceal the presence of an industrial chemical, turned up in Central America and the Caribbean. The same chemical, this time in an adulterated medicine, was blamed for 51 deaths in Panama. It turns out that this problem is not only widespread, it is not new. A Washington Post examination of U.S. Food and Drug Administration records found that its inspectors, who can only examine a tiny fraction of imports, regularly found products containing cancercausing chemicals, illegal pesticides and banned antibiotics and preservatives. They also found counterfeit and mislabeled medicines.
Most often, the feds order the rejected products returned to China but often the Chinese shippers send the load right back again or try a third country.
The reliability of Chinese products is critical to the booming trade in agricultural products with the United States, but the Chinese tend to take any criticism of their domestic governance — say, the inability to police the purity of their food and medicines — as meddling in their internal affairs.
Now, however, Beijing has instituted its first recall system for unsafe products and is taking steps to address the problem that most of a substantial percentage of its food suppliers are unlicensed, uninspected and their products untested.
And it is encouraging that this week the Foreign Ministry said, “We stand ready to work with the international community to safeguard the quality and reputation of the Chinese food industry.”
Poisoned products affect the Chinese too, and in a recent scandal, antibiotics approved by the State Food and Drug Administration killed 10 people before they were removed from the market.
This week the former head of that agency was sentenced to death for taking more than $800,000 in bribes to allow companies to evade the standards. That probably is going a little too far, but it shows China is getting serious about unsafe food and medicine.