Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Hammer May Be About To Fall

First it was a coal-byproduct in the wheat gluten killing dogs and cats; then it was diethylene glycol in cough-syrup shipped to Panama; now the New York Times is reporting that toothpaste, also shipped to Panama, contains this same, poisonous, dietethylene glycol (a cheap substitute for glycerin). Do the Chinese have it in for Panama or something?

This could turn out to be a BIG, BIG problem for China. While I always have to point out the sensationalism of news stories (nobody is believed to have been harmed by the toothpaste, and it's unclear how many pets died from the gluten, though hundreds of people were killed by the cough-syrup in Panama), there is real reason to be concerned about products, particularly anything you ingest that comes from China.

What surprises me is that I thought counterfeiting was mostly an internal thing. Within China, there have even been cases of counterfeiting rabies vaccine (which is essentially intentional homicide), but I always though economic incentives and the importance of exports to China's economy would keep this in check. Guess I was wrong.

Now, many of the products being shipped from China are going to be subject to increased scrutiny, and the Chinese seem less likely to get approval to ship poultry abroad, something they've been lobbying for. What's worse, "made in China" could be seen by the consumer as a black mark on an otherwise reputable product.

While the New York Times is absolutely right that regulations are often lax, and enforcement before the fact lacks teeth, the Chinese government gets VERY serious about these things once they start shaming the country. My guess is that many of the people behind these incidents may be executed. And yet, these things still happen. What is it about China that makes people willing to take such risks? Did they not think people would figure out what happened when they put a poisonous chemical in medicine?

I've been itching to get a Chinese perspective about all of this, but the Chinese media is completely avoiding the issue, and I'm afraid bringing it up will result in either denial (it's a US plot), embarrassment and unease, or even get them in trouble if they believed it and told others. . .

By the way - to any government censors who may be reading this. Hi. You know, nobody reads my blog anyway, just my parents and friends. And just because I have a blog doesn't mean I have journalistic integrity. Feel free to tell me to shut up, I will. Just don't deport me.

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