01/31/2011, 00.00
CHINA
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Fake anti-cancer drugs sold in China for years

An organised crime ring manufactured and sold counterfeit drugs at an extremely low price. However, the drugs were ineffective. Food safety protection and enforcement remain a major problem in the country.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A crime syndicate based in Hangzhou (Zhejiang) for years sold counterfeit and ineffective drugs, with patent rights held by Bayer, Nova, Roche and AstraZeneca, worth tens of millions of yuan.

The group posted sales information online claiming the drugs had been smuggled in from India and Peru, countries where the real drugs can be manufactured without paying patent duties, and then sold them for one-tenth the original price. In reality, the drugs were fakes, made in China in places like Yixing (Jiangsu), and both ineffective and unsafe, albeit not lethal.

The Hangzhou Food and Drug Administration was alerted in September 2008 through an inquiry about a bottle of cancer drugs that had packaging only in English. Drugs sold in the mainland are required to have Chinese translations.

By the time the scandal was exposed in 2009, the organisation had earned more than 7.5 million yuan (US$ 1.1 million), with sales as far as even in Peru and India.

The Hangzhou Intermediate People's Court sentenced some of the main culprits in October to 10 years in prison.

Once more, this scandal highlighted how product safety remains a major problem in China. Last year, in addition to cases involving criminal gangs, several food companies were blamed for tainted food.

In one incident, the authorities went after the makers of ‘gutter’ oil obtained from refined discarded kitchen waste after media brought the matter to light. About 165.7 tonnes of oil made from waste or unknown sources were eventually ordered destroyed.

In July last year, Dongyuan milk powder, produced in Southwest China's Qinghai province, showed high levels of melamine, a toxic chemical used in the manufacturing of plastics that can give phony high levels of proteins.

Overall, China’s health authorities have a poor record when it comes to food safety. Last year, a total of 191 officials were punished for failing to do their duty in food safety enforcement.

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