WUKONG China drugs scandal hot on the hoof
of meat ban By Wu Zhong, China
HONG KONG - Medicine by definition
is for treatment of diseases or injuries. But
drugs contaminated with unwanted poisonous stuff
(some poison are necessary to cure certain
diseases) will do harm to human health instead.
Hence medicine makers must have the social
conscience and responsibility to ensure the safety
of their products.
It is therefore totally
justified for Chinese public to become outraged
upon learning that over a dozen commonly-used
drugs have been packed into capsules made from
industrial gelatin made from waste leather
materials. As such the capsules contain excessive
amounts of chromium, which is hazardous to human
health. Amid suspicion that a lot more drugs are
similarly tainted, many people in China,
especially the aged, now refuse to take
Added to the growing panic over
contaminated medicine is the renewed fear of
unsafe foodstuff especially red meat prompted by
reports that Chinese sports authority has
instructed athletes in training for competition in
the London Summer Olympic Games in July not to eat
pork, beef and lamb to avoid taking in substances
banned under anti-doping rules of the
international sports event. A question is
naturally asked: is red meat safe for others to
eat if it is deemed unsafe for athletes?
The scandal about medicine capsules
containing excessive chromium was first exposed by
state-run China Central Television (CCTV) on April
15. It said a total of 13 commonly used drugs from
nine pharmaceutical companies were found to be
packed into capsules made from industrial gelatin
retrieved from waste leather materials.
This caused a public panic with netizens
and media commentaries expressing their anger over
the scandal through various outlets. For example:
Sina's Weibo.com, a popular
Twitter-like microblogging service in China, was
flooded with comments, mostly condemnations,
about the incident.
"Is it only the
capsules which pose problems? Can we still
believe in these pharmaceutical companies
without any conscience?" said one microblogger,
under the name "Jia Xiaoxue."
user nicknamed "Lixiaoyue" was similarly
skeptical of the pharmaceutical industry. "Are
we still able to be cured, given the medicines
coming to our rescue are poisonous themselves?"
Hackers have also done their bit
to join the condemnation in their own way.
Tonghua Golden-Horse Pharmaceutical
Industry Co Ltd, a listed company on the Shenzhen
stock exchange, was involved in this case, as the
capsules the company used in a fever medication
were reported to have chromium content of 87.57
Early on April 16, the official
website of Tonghua Golden-Horse (thjm.cn) was
attacked by hackers, who replaced the home page
with a text condemning the company's misconduct.
"How can you make capsules from the broken
shoes I threw away? Every hacker in China should
join the attack against these criminal domestic
companies," the hackers said in the text. 
The Chinese government reacted very
promptly this time.
The State Food and
Drug Administration (SFDA) issued an emergency
notice on the same day the CCTV aired its
investigative report to suspend the selling and
consumption of the 13 drugs in question. It also
ordered provincial food and drug authorities to
check and retrieve the said drugs from the market.
On April 19, The Ministry of Public
Security said in a statement that police had
detained 53 suspects and closed 10 industrial
gelatin and gel capsule factories believed to have
been involved in producing contaminated medicine
capsules. Police also confiscated more than 230
tonnes of industrial gelatin in Hebei, Zhejiang,
Jiangxi and Shandong provinces.
Praiseworthy as the government's prompt
reaction may be, Chinese media and netizens are
not all satisfied. They generally blame the
government for insufficient and weak supervision.
"The fact that at least 10 factories in
three provinces are found to have been producing
industrial gelatin for medical capsules shows the
problem did not emerge overnight. Had there been
efficient government supervision, the malpractice
would have been discovered and dealt with long
time ago," said a commentary on the People's
Daily, the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's)
questioned why regulatory authorities always
lagged behind the media in finding out quality
There are also comments
condemning the pharmaceutical companies for
seeking more profits by using cheap but
contaminated capsules. "Their conscience is eaten
by dogs," a blogger wrote, saying that these
companies apparently knew beforehand the capsules
they bought were problematic as their prices were
"suspiciously much lower than the regular ones."
The scandal may just have exposed
tip-of-the-iceberg problems with the
pharmaceutical industry. Many media commentaries
now urge the government to launch a thorough,
nationwide check on the safety of medical drugs.
Adding to the growing public concern with
drug safety is renewed fear of contaminated
foodstuffs following a report on April 18 by the
Yangtze Evening News that Chinese athletes had
been banned from eating red meat bought from the
According to the report, Li
Zhongyi, an official with the National Aquatics
Center, disclosed that its 196 athletes had
stopped eating red meat for 40 days and mainly
relied on protein powder and fish to meet the high
protein needs of athletes. It added:
This has followed a January 19 order
by the General Administration of Sports to ban
athletes from eating red meat.
bans athletes from ordering dishes containing
pork, beef and lamb when eating out. It also
bans all training centers from feeding athletes
with red meat unless they are completely sure
that the meat is one hundred percent safe.
The General Administration of Sports
issued the ban out of its concern that the meat
may be contaminated with clenbuterol.
Clenbuterol can speed up
muscle-building and fat-burning to produce leaner
meat, but could result in a positive drug test for
an athlete. For instance, in 2010, Tong Wen,
China's 2008 Olympic women's judo gold medalist,
failed to pass the test for the substance and was
banned for two years.
Since 1997, the
Chinese government has banned the use of
clenbuterol as an addictive in cattle feed. But
pork tainted with clenbuterol has been found in
markets many times since then. Last year, amid
growing public concern with the problem, the
government launched a nationwide crackdown. By
last December, Chinese police said they had more
than 132,000 cases and detained more than 90,000
The crackdown seems to have put
people's minds at ease for only a little while.
Now the Yangtze Evening News report and follow-ups
by other media outlets have renewed public fear
about clenbuterol-tainted food. By issuing a ban
on red meat, the General Administration of Sports,
itself a central government department, virtually
cast a vote of no-confidence in the effectiveness
of the nationwide crackdown.
people in China cannot help but wonder whether red
meat is safe for them to consume if it is deemed
unsafe for their athletes. And again, the
government is blamed for its failure to deal with