07/11/2007, 00.00
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Food and drug scandals: black market trade in blood and sick pigs

Blood donor centres will install video surveillance equipment to fight black market trade in blood. In Shenzhen sick pigs are butchered and meat sold. Food safety needs a political system that respects the rights of the people, experts say.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China’s health ministry has ordered that starting in October video surveillance equipment will be installed at blood collection centres across the country in a bid to stamp out a persistent black market trade. This comes after six people were jailed for illegally soliciting blood from migrant workers in the southern province of Guangdong and three blood clinics were shut down for falsifying donor records and other malpractices.

China has been trying to clean up its tainted blood industry, after thousands of farmers in the impoverished central province of Henan were infected with HIV-Aids in the 1990s through schemes in which people sold blood to unsanitary, often state-run, clinics.

In April a blood racket was uncovered in Guangdong in which people, often sick, sold their blood causing a hepatitis outbreak.

In June, China’s food and drug regulator said it had discovered 2,000 bottles of fake blood protein in Jilin Province used in at least 18 local hospitals. It contained instead polysorbate 80, an additive that is useless for the body but which can cause serious allergies and even death.

In Shenzhen the local Daily Sunshine newspaper reported on Monday that about 260 live pigs, including ones that were sick and dying, were butchered daily at three illegal slaughterhouses before being transported to market. An investigation is under way.

China’s watchdog agency, the State Food and Drugs Administration (SFDA), is implementing tighter controls to prevent further loss of credibility in Chinese products after so many scandals involving tainted food and counterfeit drugs. The SFDA in fact announced today that new drugs will require more controls before they are approved and that food companies will be better scrutinised.

Many Chinese companies have been accused of using poor quality ingredients or even recycled ingredients, unapproved additives, and banned substances.

They should also be properly certified by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine. According to its own figures about half or 223,297 factories it inspected nationwide were not completely certified, and another 164,149 had no certificate at all. Most manufactured commonly consumed food like rice, wheat powder, soybeans, wine and cooking oil.

The large number of cases is raising concerns about Beijing’s sloppy inspections and surveillance of food safety over the years.

Amid such worries, the execution of Zheng Xiaoyu, who headed the SFDA from 1997 to 2005, was the strongest indication yet of Beijing's determination to improve product safety, Chinese papers reported.

But analysts point out that Zheng was able to continue in his misdeeds for years and that corruption is deeply rooted because public officials are not accountable to the population and can violated their rights, almost with impunity.

“Zheng Xiaoyu's execution will satisfy ordinary people's desire for revenge and show that party leaders sympathise, but an occasional execution can't stop corruption,” said Hu Xingdou, a professor of Beijing Institute of Technology. “Corruption is so widespread because the risks to officials are so low. I think a lot of them will think Zheng lost out in a political fight or didn't pay off the right people.” (PB)

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