China’s official Xinhua news agency announced yesterday the execution of Zheng Xiaoyu, the former head of its State Food and Drug Administration, in an attempt to show the country’s seriousness about cleaning up obvious problems with exporting contaminated food and drugs.
Xiaoyu was convicted of accepting bribes totaling the equivalent of one million USD to approve untested drugs. The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court carried out the sentence after denying appeals from Xiaoyu, who argued the punishment was too harsh for the crime, and that he had confessed to his wrongdoings. Evidently, it wasn’t enough. Xiaoyu was the first ministerial-level official executed in China in seven years, and only the fourth within the past thirty.
The execution is expected to be met with mixed reviews by the American public, which has been outraged by China’s continuous problems with contaminated food and drugs. Numerous industries — from major retail chains, to the health insurance and health care industries — have been trying to contain serious health and safety risks from the products. Hundreds of human and animal lives have been affected in the U.S. alone.
But putting an individual to death for accepting bribes also is riling up human rights’ activists, many of whom argue that, no matter one’s stance on the effectiveness of the death penalty, it should not be considered for nonviolent crimes. China’s reputation for violating human rights, after all, is no better than its reputation for exporting dangerously contaminated goods.
The nationwide contamination earlier this year of some of the U.S.’s top pet food brands by wheat protein imported from China was only the latest in a series of scandals involving compromised products from the country, including tires, children’s toys, vitamins used for baby formula, and toothpaste. Even phony anti-malarial drugs have been exported and used, killing or further sickening desperately ill patients.
Texas understands this issue well. With so many products legally and illegally imported from the border, and with only 1% of all of the nation’s imports being inspected by the Food and Drug Administration, it’s likely that nearly any establishment in the state selling almost any goods — from Dallas, to Houston, to Austin, to the tiny border towns — is making available a product American regulatory industries would never allow to be produced in the U.S. Even fruit is subject to different regulations in Mexico, and is often sprayed with chemicals now banned in this country. The problems with Chinese imports, then, which circulate throughout every state, only adds to the problem, and Texans have been shown to be less than tolerant about products on the market that could put public health at risk.
China knows America’s outrage, and is making overt efforts to reassure the Western public of its commitment to safety, including the conviction and execution of Xiaoyu. Without its exports, the Chinese economy would collapse. Wal-Mart alone is China’s eighth largest trading partner, and over 90% of the vitamin C sold in the U.S. is produced there. In fact, Americans would be surprised to know that much of their aspirin, pain relievers, and antibiotics, including penicillin, are produced in China. Labels stating a vitamin or drug’s country of origin are not required in the U.S., however, and few products actually reveal it. Fewer Americans probably even think about it when picking up a prescription from the pharmacy.
This is certainly not to say that all products from China are dangerous, or even of poor quality. It’s the fact we simply don’t know that makes us cringe. We don’t know which exports are safe or, at times, even when we’re buying imported products, let alone imported drugs from a facility in China that may or may not be clean, and that may or may not be producing untested products. Xiaoyu’s willingness to accept bribes to approve untested drugs forces most of us to count our blessings that we weren’t one of the many malaria patients trusting phony medication, or one of the many beloved pets ingesting contaminated wheat protein. Perhaps this will be a turning point for China’s regulatory industry. Perhaps. But until then: buyer beware.
Making sure the products you buy are safe is one very important part of taking care of your health. How you take care of yourself will certainly affect you as you age, and eventually your wallet, as well.