Wednesday, May 30, 2007

China FDA: Will the Monkeys Behave Now?

Yesterday, the breaking news out of China concerns the fate of the Chinese top Food & Drug administrator. News reports around the world relayed his death sentence:

The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court convicted Zheng Xiaoyu (郑筱萸) of
taking bribes in cash and gifts worth more than $832,000 when he was director of
the State Food and Drug Administration.

The sentence seems harsh for a crime of embezzlement, which occurs very frequently among corrupt officials in China. And the amount over which Zheng was convicted was $832,000 seems small in contrast with other convicted Chinese officials who had been handed much lighter sentences. One has to wonder if there is a political motivation behind this high profile case at this very sensitive time when the whole world is wary of food and drug exports from China. In recent memory, Chinese food and drugs have grabbed headlines world wide:

--Poisonious baby formula
--Pet food with chemical toxic--melamine
--Chinese toothpaste with lethal chemical sold in the Dominican Republic
--Chinese cough mixture with lethal chemical sold in Panama
--Frozen Chinese cat fish with banned antibiotics sold in the Sourthern states of the U.S.

The list can go on and on, but you get the picture. A consumer has to wonder about what exactly is the Chinese government doing to food and drug safety, and how the laws on food and drug safety are enforced in China. State Food and Drug Admisinstration is in charge of enforcing food and drug safety laws and regulations in China.

Chinese laws on food and drug safety:

Regulations of Medical Equipment Supervision Management, Effective on April 1, 2000

Drug Management Law of the P.R. China, Effective on December, 1, 2001

《中华人民共和国药品管理法实施条例》, 2002年9月15
Implementation Regulations of the Drug Management Law of P.R. China, Effective on September, 15, 2002

Interim Regulations on the Information Management of Food Safety Supervision, Effective October 22, 2004

Like many things in China, the extent and pace of regulations far exceed those of enforcement. In the face of mounting international pressure and the very image of Chinese exports, the Chinese government went back to its bag of tricks, the Chinese idioms for a quick solution to the rampant, dangerous, and downright embarrassing problems of food and drug safety—“kill the chicken to scare the monkeys so that they may behave” (杀鸡儆猴).

Aside from the death sentence of Mr. Zheng, the Chinese government is undertaking some measures to step up the enforcement of its food and drug safety measures.

1. to advance completely the implementation of an accountability system in the supervision of food safety;
2. to effectively grasp the food safety work in rural areas;
3. to strengthen the monitoring of food safety;
4. to further the establishment of a food safety credibility system;
5. to strengthen food safety education and awareness;
6. to launch comprehensive food safety evaluations;
7. to quicken the establishment of an food safety emergency response system.

Without sounding negative or pessimistic, I just want to air my wariness of yet more measures issued by the central government in an effort to strengthen the enforcement of existing laws and regulations. Obviously, the above-mentioned seven steps all look and sound like effective things to do to combat a ever-worsening problem, but the fundamental mechanism for effective enforcement of laws and regulations can not simply be established by the death of a corrupt and incompetent top enforcement chief, nor can it be accomplished by issuing yet another order to be enforced with the hope of better enforcement. This is circular logic.

What really needs to happen in enforcing existing laws and regulation is not more laws about enforcement; rather enforcement of laws and regulations require a system in which the enforcers of such laws and regulation have sufficiently independent power to carry out its duties, yet at the same time being checked by another government entity, the courts.

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