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Saturday, July 21, 2007

China closes chemical plant and factories which produced tainted pet food, cough syrup and toothpaste

Damage control
ASSOCIATED PRESS - July 21, 2007
BEIJING -- China moved to sharpen its product safety image yesterday, shutting down a chemical plant linked to dozens of deaths in Panama from tainted medicine and closing two companies tied to pet deaths in North America.

The measures come as Beijing fights to reassure global customers that it takes food and drug safety seriously amid concerns over chemicals and toxins that have been found in its products.

The closures come months after links between the companies' products and the deaths became known but only days ahead of high-level visits by U.S. and European officials.

EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva arrives next week and has said she will press China to be much more vigilant about product safety. On July 31, a five-day meeting between officials of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and China's food safety agency begins in Beijing. Chinese officials have said the sides will discuss setting up a collaborative food safety mechanism.

Two of the companies that had their licenses revoked and offices shut by China's product safety watchdog were the Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co. Ltd. and Binzhou Futian Biology Technology Co. Ltd.

Products from both were implicated in the deaths of dozens of pets in North America. Reports of the deaths and links to China emerged in March.

The third company closed was the Taixing Glycerin Factory, which has been accused of selling what it called industrial "TD glycerin," a mix of 15 percent diethylene glycol and other substances. The diethylene glycol, a thickening agent found in antifreeze, was passed off as harmless glycerin, a more expensive sweetener commonly used in drugs.

It eventually ended up in Panamanian cough syrup and other medicines that killed at least 94 persons. The deaths were first reported last October, with the link to China emerging in early May.

Chinese quality officials have said "TD glycerin" is a misleading label because it could be mistaken for glycerin. But they also said the bulk of the blame lies with Panamanian merchants they accused of fraudulently mislabeling the "TD glycerin" as medical glycerin.

Gabriel Pascual, leader of a group of families who lost loved ones after they were poisoned by the tainted cough syrup and other medicines, applauded the closure of the Chinese chemical company. But, he added: "We will continue demanding justice in Panama."

While the government has announced the detention of an unspecified number of managers from Xuzhou Anying and Binzhou Futian, yesterday's action was the most definitive yet against the manufacturers linked to melamine-tainted wheat gluten blamed for the pet deaths.

The General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine also said police were investigating the two companies, but did not elaborate.

Following the pet-food deaths, U.S. authorities have turned away or recalled toxic fish, juice containing unsafe color additives and popular toy trains decorated with lead paint. Chinese-made toothpaste containing diethylene glycol has also been rejected or recalled in North and South America, Asia and Europe.

Xuzhou Anying, located in Jiangsu province, "unlawfully added melamine in some of its products which could not meet the protein content requirement set in the contracts," the quality administration said. "This behavior of adulteration severely violated the feed quality and safety standards."

Binzhou Futian, headquartered in neighboring Shandong province, "added melamine in some of its products which could not meet the protein content requirement ... constituting severe adulteration," the statement said.

Melamine, used in plastics, fertilizers and flame retardants, has no nutritional value but is high in nitrogen, making products to which it is added appear to be higher in protein — a way to cut costs for the manufacturer.

Bates Gill, a China specialist at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said yesterday's actions struck him as "too little, too late."

"This problem of poor quality and lack of oversight has been around for a decade or more," he said. "What's different this time is how the shoddiness of their factories has become apparent to the world."

Read more/ see photos in The Washington Times

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