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China’s Industrial Nightmare

The Western media have a habit of going on feeding frenzies. Ironically, when it comes to China, the latest frenzy concerns food itself. The execution this week of the former head of China’s State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), Zhen Xiaoyu, who accepted almost $1 million in bribes, shows that the frenzy has now seeped into China as well.

First came a spate of stories about pet food laced with melamine (a coal derivative), cough medicine and toothpaste adulterated with diethylene glycol (a sweet-tasting industrial chemical used in anti-freeze and brake fluid), toy trains decorated with lead-based paints, bacteria-infected antibiotics, exploding cell phone batteries, and defective car tires.

Now, attention has now turned to food. The world press is filled with stories about honey laced with industrial sweeteners, canned goods contaminated by bacteria and excessive amounts of additives, rice wine braced with industrial alcohol, and farm-raised fish, eel, and shrimp fed large doses of antibiotics and then washed down with formaldehyde to lower bacterial counts.

In response, China’s government acted almost instantly. The General Administration of Quality and Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine conducted a survey and reported that nearly one-fifth of all products made in China for domestic use did not measure up to safety and quality standards. At the same time, regulators increased inspections, closed down some 180 food manufacturers and now post the names of violators on their Web site.