Criminal Justice

Top Official gets Death Sentence for Bad Chinese Food

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Even for China, the sentence is an unusually harsh one. In the wake of international scandals over contamination of food products shipped from China, the former head of the country’s top food and drug safety agency was sentenced to death today.

Zheng Xiaoyu, 62, commissioner of China’s Food and Drug Administration from 1998 to 2005, received the capital sentence after pleading guilty to bribery and dereliction of duty charges, reports the New York Times. It attributed the information to China’s state-controlled news media, and said the bribes he received totalled $850,000, a huge amount there. It is not clear whether Zheng will appeal, but Chinese law requires further review by higher courts before a death sentence is imposed, reports the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.).

Earlier this year, contaminated pet food apparently manufactured with tainted ingredients shipped from China led to one of the biggest recalls of U.S. pet food ever, and the Chinese government is now investigating how diethylene glycol,an antifreeze chemical, ended up in cough medicine and toothpaste in Latin America. More than 100 people reportedly died last year in Panama as a result of consuming such cough medicine.

“But the trial of the former director of the nation’s food and drug watchdog agency suggests that the problems in China are even more serious than that,” reports the Times, which says mass food poisonings are common there. New government food regulations are pending, and, under the circumstances, “[t]he death penalty “wouldn’t be excessive punishment for Zheng,” says Wang Yigao, a professor at Hunan Academy of Sciences. “Zheng was simply using the power given by the state to pursue his personal ambition.”

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