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Chinese chemicals in the world market

        A column in the New York Times' October 31, 2007, edition pointed out that unregulated Chinese chemicals are flooding world markets.    Present at the annual international show in October were one manufacturer who was recently implicated in the American illegal steroid trade, and another whose representative at the 2006 trade show was arrested for patent violations.  Also in attendance were representatives of two state-run companies who had killed nearly 200 people in Haiti and Panama by selling mislabeled poison.  The CEO of another chemical company that reserved a booth at the trade show in Milan  could not attend because he was in jail in Houston for selling counterfeit medicine in the U.S.

        The NYT identified more than 80 Chinese companies who were selling pharmaceutical ingredients but who were not certified by the Chinese version of the FDA.  Because they are selling drug "ingredients" rather than drugs, Chinese drug regulators lack jurisdiction to regulate them.  As a result, their unregulated ingredients find their way in to the third-world consistently, and into highly regulated European and North American markets on occasion, as well.  Times reporters identifed dozens of examples of known-law breakers continuing to do business, unrelenting illegal and false advertising claims, and consistent unwillingness of the Chinese government to attempt to rein in these abuses.

        In truth, it isn't simply a failure of will by the Chinese government (although several of the known law-breakers have been companies owned by the Chinese government).  On October 30 of this year, the Chinese claimed to have arrested 774 people in a crackdown on the sale and production of tainted food and drugs.  It acknowledges that more than 80 percent of the food tested in medium and large Chinese cities does not meet safety standards and that one-third of all restaurants do not pass food safety inspections.  Since  July, the Chinese claim to have destroyed or recalled "over 1000 tons" of products. 

        Nevertheless, to some extent unbridled expansion of the Chinese economy has created nightmare that is incapable of regulation.  It is widely estimated that there are more than 80,000 chemical manufacturers in China, many of which are housed in family homes.  More than 1300 companies advertise on a major business-to-business website and Chinese products are sold in more than 150 countries.    More than 700 Chinese companies are known to manufacture drug products for U.S. consumption, but the American FDA has resources to conduct only about 20 inspections in China per year, according to Representative John Dingell of Michigan.

         The Chinese don't have the resources to clean their own house, and the American government doesn't have the political will to dedicate the resources to policing even our modest share of the Chinese manufacturing trade.  Our consumers will continue to live at risk of unsafe and unscrupulous practices.

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