Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Chinese food safety issue is also about democracy—or lack of it.

Consider this AP story on China:

“BEIJING - China executed a former director of its food and drug agency Tuesday for approving fake medicine in exchange for cash, illustrating how serious Beijing is about tackling product safety, while officials announced steps to safeguard food at next summer’s Olympic Games.During Zheng Xiaoyu’s tenure as head of the State Food and Drug Administration from 1997 to 2006, the agency approved six untested drugs that turned out to be fake, and some drug-makers used falsified documents to apply for approvals, according to state media reports. One antibiotic caused the deaths of at least 10 people.”
And this one:

“The head of a Chinese toy manufacturing company at the center of a huge U.S. recall has committed suicide, a state-run newspaper said Monday. Zhang Shuhong, who ran the Lee Der Industrial Co. Ltd, killed himself at a warehouse over the weekend, days after China said it had temporarily banned exports by the company, the Southern Metropolis Daily said.”
Lee Der made 967,000 toys recalled earlier this month by Mattel Inc. because they were made with paint found to have excessive amounts of lead. The plastic preschool toys, sold under the Fisher-Price brand in the U.S., included the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters.”
Hmmm, I think this food contamination issue is really more about democracy, or lack of it, and less about food safety per se. When you don’t have free press, no one could really check on issues like this. Government could be all powerful and well meaning but it could never have all the eyes and ears all the time to guard against nefarious business practices. Not in a society and economy as big as China. Only a free and open society, with free and strong institutions, especially media, could effectively deal with that.

The Chinese government is taking corrective measures, and sometimes the punishment is death, simply because there is a global outcry against certain Chinese products sold in the global market place. But what about those contaminated products that are not sold abroad? It means that the primary victims of this food safety problem are the Chinese themselves who don’t have the voice to complain.


manuelbuencamino said...

which brings right back to transparency and the need for the freedom to disseminate information and its consequence which is accountability.

Dave Llorito said...

you got it right, mb. i agree with you!