Suspicious Death In China | August 25, 2008 Issue - Vol. 86 Issue 34 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 34 | p. 11 | News of The Week
Issue Date: August 25, 2008

Suspicious Death In China

Regulator's demise is latest scandal for country's food inspection system
Department: Government & Policy
To ensure disease-free food, a worker prepares to vaccinate pigs in Shandong province.
Credit: OTHK/Reuters
To ensure disease-free food, a worker prepares to vaccinate pigs in Shandong province.
Credit: OTHK/Reuters

THE CHINESE OFFICIAL in charge of ensuring food safety died when he fell from a roof the day after government investigators questioned him on suspicions of corruption. Wu Jianping, 42, was a director general of food inspections at the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection & Quarantine.

A spokesman for the agency stated that Wu's fall from the roof was an accident, but the Beijing-based, privately run finance and business publication Caijing has reported that Wu committed suicide. During questioning, Wu reportedly had admitted to investigators that he possessed assets that he could not have acquired with his public servant's salary. Wu had the authority to issue licenses to food manufacturers certifying their products.

Wu's death perpetuates the turmoil afflicting China's food and drug inspection apparatus. In July 2007, China executed the former head of its State Food & Drug Administration (SFDA) for accepting bribes in exchange for approving drugs that later killed patients (C&EN, July 16, 2007, page 9). Other corrupt SFDA officials received prison sentences.

In 2007, the U.S. FDA orchestrated its biggest ever recall when it discovered that pet food containing tainted proteins from China was killing dogs and cats throughout North America (C&EN, May 12, page 41). And this winter, Chinese-made frozen dumplings that killed and sickened dozens of people in Japan led to increased diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

Chinese-made food has become so distrusted that at this year's Olympics, athletes from several countries, including the U.S., brought their own food to Beijing despite numerous measures China had implemented to ensure food safety in the Olympic village.

The government is aware that the country's food inspection system needs improvement. This week, China's parliament will consider raising fines and authorizing more severe punishments for company executives and government officials who fail to make the food supply safe. The parliament also will consider introducing new measures to better track food products already released in the marketplace.

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