January 14, 2009

China Warns Of Loosening Standards Amid Slowing Economy

A senior official with China's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) warned that a slowing economy might entice some companies to cut costs and loosen quality standards as they struggle to deal with slowing customer demand amid the global financial crisis.

Mingli made his remarks during a meeting on the supervision and management of food and drugs.

China has been shaken by a number of scandals in recent years involving unsafe food and drugs, some of which have resulted in deaths, illnesses and the global recall of many Chinese-made products. 

The most recent scandal involved tainted milk products that killed at least six children and sickened 290,000 with kidney stones.  The milk was found to be contaminated with the chemical melamine, an industrial compound used to skew results of nutrition tests.  A number of company officials and farmers accused of producing and selling the tainted milk are now on trial and awaiting a verdict.

China's Xinhua news agency quoted Mingli as saying late Tuesday that the country was on particularly "high alert" as the impact of the economic crisis began to hit home.

"Some enterprises might conduct production in violation of standards and regulations in an attempt to ease their financial burdens," he said.

"On the other hand, conflicts and disputes arising from some companies' regrouping or merger and acquisition might impact production and quality management," he said, adding that more stringent supervision of all levels of the supply chain is needed.

According to Xinhua, the SFDA handled some 297,500 cases of "illegal drugs and medical equipment" with a value of about 600 million yuan ($88 million) last year, numbers that point to the severity of the problem.

Mingli's warnings coincide with a current investigation into a health scare involving a foreign brand of dog food, which have been linked by local to the deaths of dozens of pets.

On Tuesday, a report by the China Daily cited at least 30 dogs that had been killed from liver complications after eating a brand of dog food tainted with aflatoxin.  The report quoted veterinarians who claimed a number of dogs had been diagnosed with liver damage after consuming the pet food, and one local supplier that had ceased selling the product.

However, a Xinhua report cited China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine as saying it had not approved the food for import, nor had border quarantine units ever allowed its import, calling into question the product's precise point of origin.

A separate scandal in 2007 involved Chinese-made pet food containing ingredients tainted with melamine.  A number of dogs and cats within the U.S. were killed as a result. 


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