by Mo Hong'e
BEIJING, April 23 (Xinhuanet) -- A revelation of the production and sale of toxic capsules by China Central Television (CCTV)’s “Weekly Quality Report” last week has shocked the nation; and related authorities, especially those in medicine and food safty, have taken remedial measures immediately to correct the situation.
CCTV reporters investigated manufacturers in east China’s Zhejiang Province and north China’s Hebei Province for a few of months to find out that dirty scrap leather was used to make industrial gelatin, which eventually ended up as medical capsules.
Toxic capsules exposed
China's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) checked 33 capsule medicine products, with 23 out of the 42 samples found to have excessive chromium -- a toxic heavy metal.
Testing of capsule samples marketed in Beijing and Jiangxi, Jilin and Qinghai provinces, among other areas showed that a total of 13 types of medicines from nine pharmaceutical factories are problematic in terms of the chrome content.
The Chinese Pharmacopoeia, amended in 2010, permits no more than 2 milligram of chromium per 1 kilogram of medicine. However, the toxic capsules involved were found to have a chrome content of over 90 times the national standard in extreme cases.
Song Xunjie, manager of Hebei Xueyang Glair and Gelatin Factory, confessed that the industrial gelatin is made from leather leftovers that are supposed to be used in leatherwear, after they were processed with calcium oxide and industrial acid base. The manager was reported to be a supplier to companies across the country.
An employee with a capsule factory in Xinchang, Zhejiang Province, said that the industrial gelatins, secretly used by local producers, could significantly reduce the costs and were thus very popular despite the fact that its chromium content exceeds the national standard, according to the CCTV report.
The scandal has drawn great outrages online. Thousands expressed their anger to the manufacturers and doubt over supervision department’s lax controls.
Many Internet users said online that the Chinese people need responsible companies and strict and feasible supervision mechanism. They called on relevant authorities to perform and establish a well-functioning mechanism to improve food and drug safety.
As was alreday exposed of producing fake drugs last year, the Sichuan Shuzhong Pharmaceutical was caught again in this scandal, people can’t help asking: What role did the supervision department play?
A microblogger nicknamed “Lixiaoyue” on Sina’s Weibo.com, a popular Twitter-like service in China, said “Are we still able to be cured, given the medicines coming to our rescue are poisonous themselves?”
Many people interviewed attributed the root cause of pervasive fake drug production to the problematic bidding mechanism in medicine marketing.
The mechanism favors only the pricing: the lowest-price bidder will always win out while the product quality and the producer credibility are forgotten.
This kind of bidding mechanism, which emphasizes price rather than quality, forces drug manufacturers to produce fake and inferior drugs, because the low price is usually realized through illegal cost-saving measures, said a private equity magnate.
An annual report of Tonghua Golden Horse, a listed company on the Shenzhen stock exchange, released on April 18, showed that the revenue of the toxic capsules named by CCTV report was 10.9109 million yuan, 45.14 percent higher than last year.
Sun Zhongshi, an expert with the National Rational Drug Use Monitoring System under the Ministry of Health, said current regulations require drug authorities to only check the quality of active ingredients of drugs before they enter the market.
What’s more, some underground factories that produce problematic capsules are not registered with local drug authorities, making supervision impossible, Sun added.
"The relatively lax quality check of non-active pharmaceutical products like medicine capsules has become a loophole used by profiteers," Sun said, urging relative authorities to improve the situation.