Anger Over Poison Pills

Safety watchdogs say Chinese pharmaceutical companies are using a dangerous industrial chemical to produce capsules.
2012-04-24
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A Chinese worker and his son transport gelatin at a factory before it was shut down in Hebei, April 18, 2012.
AFP

Patient advocates in China have hit out at the latest in a string of food and drug safety scandals to hit the country; the use of chromium-tainted industrial gelatin in edible medicine capsules.

"The chromium-levels in industrial gelatin are very high, which makes them poisonous," said Wang Long, who heads a patients' support group in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang.

"Industrial-grade gelatin is used as glue in shoe-making. This is unthinkable," he said.

He said ordinary Chinese people were reeling from a string of public health scandals affecting foodstuffs and medicines.

"A lot of food products in China aren't safe, and now we have yet another medical scandal coming to light," Wang said.

This week, Chinese authorities detained 45 people, arrested nine and seized more than 77 million of the chromium-tainted solid-gel capsules, according to official statements.

Police also shut down 80 illegal production lines after a week of inspections centered on Zhejiang, Hebei, and Jiangxi provinces, according to a statement on the website of the ministry of public security.

"The ministry is paying top level attention to the case of excess chromium in capsules of medical use, and is dispatching investigation teams on a daily basis," the statement said.

The ministry "is pushing with all its strength for speedy investigations and speedy resolutions," it added.

'Corporate ethics'

The crackdown prompted factories in Hebei's Zhengzhou city to pour huge quantities of the capsules into nearby drains, residents said last week.

A Zhengzhou resident surnamed Shi said the multicolored capsules were dumped in a drainage channel near the industrial park, dying the water blue.

"We are all afraid that this will cause pollution," Shi said. "I was afraid when I saw the water that our drinking supplies would be polluted."

"There is a very large pharmaceutical factory here, and they manufacture vials of medicine to take orally," he added.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Li Renbing, who has handled a number of patients' rights cases, blamed the latest scandal on poor government regulation of businesses, who behaved unethically in pursuit of larger profits.

"These lawless businesses are purely in it to make a profit, and they don't care about people's health," Li said. "They lack basic moral standards."

He said there was no question of this having been an accident.

"They knew perfectly well that this was industrial gelatin and they still used it to make these poisonous capsules," Li said. "This is a question of corporate ethics; it's about whether or not businesses have a moral bottom line."

He called on the government to step up its supervision of businesses.

"This is no simple matter that can be sorted out in a day," Li said. "And until it has been addressed, all we can do is to step up supervision."

While there have been no reports of deaths or sickness caused by taking the contaminated capsules, long-term exposure to chromium can cause serious organ damage.

The scandal is the latest in a string of blows to China's product safety reputation.

In 2008, the industrial chemical melamine was found to have been added to infant powdered milk, killing at least four babies and sickening thousands.

Netizens passed around jokes this week telling people to lick their shoes, if they needed to take medicine, as industrial gelatin is used to glue footwear.

Given the amount of industrial substances recently found also in yogurt and frozen desserts, the shoes, they quipped, had been "really busy."

Reported by An Pei for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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Anonymous Reader

When will the world realise that China has a very different set of morals, just look at thier human rites, yet just because they can make it cheap cheap they get the worlds business. USA & EUROPE need employment yet thier listed companies and governments allow thier employment to be exported all in the name of greed. More profit for the corporate = more tax revenue for government = MORE UNEMPLOYMENT

May 11, 2012 01:44 AM