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CHINA'S former drug regulator has received the death penalty — against a backdrop of growing international and domestic concern over the safety of food, pharmaceutical and other products made in China.

Zheng Xiaoyu, head of the State Food and Drug Administration from 1998 until his sacking in 2005, was convicted yesterday in a Beijing court of taking 6.49 million yuan (more than $1 million) in bribes and for dereliction of duty. Zheng, 62, was arrested last year and accused of accepting kickbacks to speed up drug approvals. In one case under Zheng's watch, a tainted antibiotic approved by his agency killed at least 10 patients last year.

The organisation in charge of ensuring the safety of China's exports recently announced that it would introduce the country's first food recall system after an outcry over tainted pet food and toothpaste.

Exported pet food, spiked with the chemical melamine, has been blamed for dog and cat deaths in the United States. The US has also stopped all imports of Chinese toothpaste after reports that some products sold in Australia, the Dominican Republic and Panama were tainted with diethylene glycol, a chemical used in antifreeze and brake fluid. Three southern US states have banned imports of catfish from China.

Zheng's sentence may be reduced on appeal. In 2000, another official of comparable rank was executed for accepting bribes.

China Daily, the English-language Communist Party newspaper, reported that the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, responsible for the safety of Chinese exports, said its proposed recall system was a response to recent safety scandals.

The administration's director-general, Wu Jianping, said it would focus on "potentially dangerous and unapproved food products", but cautioned that it would take time to implement. Draft regulations would be ready by the end of the year, Mr Wu said.

Another administration official said some foreign businesses should share the blame because they had imported illegally exported products from China.

Li Yuanping, head of food imports and exports, said more than 56 per cent of the substandard food products imported by the US from China last month had not been approved by China's entry-exit inspection and quarantine officials.

"It is these illegal products that have tarnished the reputation of all Chinese food products," Mr Li said.

In a separate report, the administration revealed that 20 per cent of locally made toys were substandard and injured 10,000 Chinese children every year. China is the world's biggest toy exporter, but industry spokespeople said most exported products were of a better quality than those sold in China.


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