China's Former Food Safety Chief Put to Death
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Beijing. Hello.
ANTHONY KUHN: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now this sentence was handed down in May. It was harsh. And it was swift. Why?
KUHN: Now, there's been a lot of controversy. People point out that penalties in general for violating food and drug laws are too light and that other officials have not been given this death sentence for much worse corruption. But the government feels it was a terrible blot on its image. And as another FDA official pointed out yesterday, they're concerned that the food and drug issue could lead to actual social instability.
MONTAGNE: Well, as you say, in a separate case another official was convicted for accepting bribes - given a life sentence. Will these convictions make China's drugs any safer?
KUHN: Well, the other FDA official, who was in charge of registering new drugs, who was given a life sentence, shows a really serious problem in the drug industry, which Chinese consumers know about. And that is that a lot of Chinese drug companies, instead of going out and researching and developing their own drugs, will take a foreign drug, make a few slight changes to it, and then bribe an official to approve that drug as theirs. And this is what Chinese are really angry about, because they know that it's very widespread for Chinese drug companies to pay doctors kickbacks to prescribe their medicines and to bribe hospitals and officials to get access to markets, and the cost of this corruption, of course, is eventually picked up by the Chinese consumer. And that's why healthcare in China is unaffordable to many, and that's why people are really angry.
MONTAGNE: Officials from several Chinese agencies met with reporters today, part of a government campaign to reassure consumers that it is in fact tackling a spate of scandals related not just to drugs but also to tainted food, and some of which have been exported to the United States. What is the government doing about that?
KUHN: They also pointed out a new measure to publicize the names of the officials who are approving drugs so that they can be held responsible if there are fake medicines or substandard medicines approved.
MONTAGNE: Though unhelpfully for the government in this campaign there's a report today of yet another fake product on the streets of Beijing.
KUHN: Now the government has said that, you know, 99 percent of its exports meet quality standards and that more than 80 percent of its domestic products are up to snuff. But I think that the guarantees of safety that the government is giving are ringing hollow with many consumers because the cases that they are not catching are enough to keep in the headlines just about every day.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing, where today the former head of China's Food and Drug Administration was put to death on bribery charges.
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