Poor food and drug safety record

Despite China's stunning growth over the past four decades, many consumers in the world's second-largest economy still live in fear of consuming toxic food or dangerous or ineffective medicines. The following are some of the biggest scandals to emerge in China over the past decade:

July 2018

The Chinese manufacturer of the blood pressure medication Valsartan, which is widely used in the United States and Europe, launches a global recall after the active ingredient is found to have been tainted by a cancer-causing substance.

March 2016

The authorities detain 130 people over the improper storage and transport of millions of dollars worth of mostly expired vaccines, including shots for polio, rabies, hepatitis B and flu. More than 350 government officials are eventually fired or demoted.

July 2012

High levels of a cancer-causing toxin which comes from mould are detected in infant formula from Ava Dairy. The company's production is halted and its formula recalled.

April 2012

Police in the eastern province of Zhejiang detain 22 people for making medicine containing chromium, a toxic raw material produced from scrap leather.

November 2011

The authorities break up a ring that made and sold fake medicines - some using animal feed. More than 65 million medicine tablets are seized and 114 people arrested.

September 2011

Thirty-two people are arrested over the sale of cooking oil made from discarded oil taken from gutters, which was found to contain carcinogens.

March 2011

Cancer-causing chemicals - fed to pigs to produce leaner meat - are found in live pigs. More than 113 people, including 77 government employees, are eventually jailed in relation to the scandal.

December 2010

Fruit vendors in Shanghai complain of burning skin after touching oranges later found to have been dyed with a toxic orange wax.

December 2010

Six people are detained after wineries in northern Hebei province are found to have added sugar, food colouring and artificial flavouring to create knock-offs of famous wines. Several wineries are shut and bottles pulled from shelves.

September 2008

In China's most explosive incident in the past decade, around 300,000 children fall ill, many with renal failure, and six are killed by milk powder laced with the chemical melamine to give the appearance of higher protein levels. Melamine is usually used to make plastic.

Several top executives with Chinese dairy giant Sanlu receive long prison terms and two get the death sentence.

The affair also spurs China to pass a new law on additives, strengthen regulatory coordination on food safety, and restructure the agency in charge of food and drug supervision.

July 2008

Four children die and dozens of others fall ill after receiving damaged vaccines in the northern province of Shanxi, but reports emerge only two years later. Local officials had denied a link between the sick children and the vaccines.

June 2007

Several countries recall Chinese-made toothpaste found to contain a chemical used in automobile antifreeze. Also that month, US importers of Chinese toys issue recalls after some are found to be coated with toxic lead paint. Similar products are later banned in several other countries.

March 2007

Pet food in North America and around the world is recalled after animals start dying in large numbers. The problem is eventually traced to wheat and rice derivatives from China that were used as ingredients and to which melamine was added.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2018, with the headline 'Poor food and drug safety record'. Print Edition | Subscribe