BEIJING, April 16 (Xinhua) -- Rage and condemnation surged in China once more after media reports revealed that some capsule medication contain excessive amount of chromium, which is hazardous to human health.
A total of 13 commonly used drugs were packed into capsules made from industrial gelatin, which contains a much higher degree of chromium than edible gelatin, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Sunday in a program on quality issues.
The gelatin for industrial use is made from waste leather materials, usually highly contaminated by chromium, as a result of the tanning agent used when processing leather.
Chromium can be toxic and carcinogenic if ingested in excessive amounts.
The public has expressed their anger over the issue through various outlets.
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."
Another user nicknamed "Lixiaoyue" was similarly sceptical of the pharmaceutical industry. "Are we still able to be cured, given the medicines coming to our rescue are poisonous themselves?"
State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) issued an emergency notice Sunday to suspend the selling and consumption of the 13 kinds of drugs packed in capsules confirmed to have excessive levels of chromium.
The SFDA said it has ordered its provincial-level bureaus to investigate the cases and examine the drugs mentioned in the report.
Police in east China's Zhejiang Province said Monday they had captured 22 people who allegedly produced and sold the substandard capsules.
By Monday noon, police had detained 11 of the suspects from four capsule manufacturing companies in Xinchang county, according to a spokesman from the county's public security bureau.
The Chinese Pharmacopoeia, a code representing the national standard for drugs, has set a clear standard for capsules and requires drug makers only to purchase capsules from manufacturers with appropriated drug-making licenses, said the notice.
The code stipulates that the content of chromium in capsules and the gelatin for making them must be no more than 2 milligram (mg) per kg, or 0.0002 percent.
However, the TV program exposed that 13 kinds of capsules from 9 companies have higher chromium content than the upper limit required by the Chinese Pharmacopoeia. The highest content among those contaminated capsules was 181.54 mg/kg, or more than 90 times of the upper limit.
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 mg/kg.
Early on Monday, 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.
At 9 p.m., several attempts to visit the website failed.
The company's shares plunged 4.94 percent on Monday's opening at 4.81 yuan per share, and closed with a drop of 1.58 percent to 4.98 yuan.
The SFDA said drug makers will face due legal consequences if the examination results fail to meet the standards.
However, many Internet viewers called on supervision authorities to perform better and establish a well-functioning mechanism to improve food and drug safety in the first place.
"Jia Xiaoxue" said on a weibo posting what Chinese people really need is responsible companies, as well as a strict and feasible supervision mechanism.
Last week, an unconfirmed report said that industrial gelatin may have been used in the production of solid yogurt and puddings, but was soon dismissed by major dairy producers.