BEIJING — China's Cabinet is drafting measures for stronger supervision over food safety, the government said Wednesday, as authorities announced busts on criminal networks that exported phony Viagra, bird flu medicine and anti-malaria drugs.
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The actions reflect Beijing's recent push to regain global consumer confidence following a slew of bans or recalls on Chinese exports — from toothpaste to seafood — found tainted with high levels of toxins and chemicals.
The regulation "strictly regulates the activities of producers, strengthens the responsibility of local governments and increases the punishment for illegal activities," according to statement posted on the government's Web site.
No other details were given and it wasn't clear when the State Council would pass the draft, putting the regulation into effect.
The Cabinet meeting was attended by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao — indicating the country's leaders were taking an interest in the issue after months of reluctance by officials to acknowledge the problem.
"Product quality and food safety concerns the health and the life of the people, it concerns the trustworthiness of companies and the image of the country," the statement said. "We must attach great importance to the matter."
The official Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday said poultry from Germany, the Czech Republic and the U.S. state of Virginia have been blocked because of "local outbreaks of animal diseases." Pork products from the former Soviet republic of Georgia have been banned for the same reasons, it said in a brief two-sentence report that did not elaborate.
Also Wednesday, European Union Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva urged China to stick to its commitment to be more transparent about actions it takes against manufacturers who make goods recalled in Europe.
"This is very important for us to keep trust and confidence in our trade and our partnership," Kuneva said after visiting a toy factory in the eastern province of Jiangsu.
Gangs sold fake Viagra, Tamiflu
Meanwhile, sting operations on fake-drug rings were made between August 2005 and May 2006 and involved gangs spread across the country, two of which sold their products via the Internet or by e-mail, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
The announcement, posted late Tuesday on the government's Web site, did not say what happened to the suspects, if anyone was sickened as a result or why the information was released only now. But it likely is aimed at underscoring Beijing's past efforts to clean up its problems with rampant piracy and substandard goods.
In the investigation into counterfeit drugs, police in five cities and provinces arrested 19 suspects in May 2006, closed six factories and seized 40 tons of materials used to fake the flu treatment Tamiflu, which has also been used to combat bird flu. The raid followed a tip from the U.S. Customs office in Beijing, the statement said.
The suspects were selling the drug to customers in the United States and elsewhere via the Internet, it said.
Meanwhile, information from the United States led to the arrest of 12 suspects in the southern province of Guangdong last October and the seizure of 1 ton of materials used to make fake versions of the impotence drug Viagra. Two production lines were closed, the statement said.
In April last year, a tip from Pfizer Inc., the maker of Viagra, also led to the arrest in Shanghai of a suspect identified only by his surname Huang, who allegedly sold fake Viagra and other brands of medicine to customers in the United States, the Netherlands and 10 other countries, which were not listed.
The statement said Huang used e-mail to stay in contact with customers. He sold 18,000 pills to 24 people and netted over 190,000 yuan ($25,000) it said.
Most drugs with the Viagra label sold in China are bogus versions. Six months after Viagra was introduced, state media reported that 90 percent of the little blue pills sold in Shanghai were fake.
In a separate case, the ministry cooperated with Interpol in February 2006 on a cross-border sting that netted three Chinese suspects in the southern region of Guangxi who were allegedly manufacturing a fake anti-malaria drug and selling it to customers in Southeast Asia.
The ministry also announced a toothpaste bust that occurred in April 2006 in Xuancheng, a city in the central province of Anhui, which was the hub of the six-province network which illegally labeled it products Colgate, Crest and Zhong Hua, a local brand.
It did not say if the fake toothpaste contained diethylene glycol — a thickening agent in antifreeze — which is a common but unregulated ingredient in Chinese toothpaste and at the center of international recalls.
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