BEIJING (AP) - China's food and drug agency announced stricter rules Wednesday for approving new drugs, a day after its former head was executed for accepting bribes to approve untested medicine. The government also ordered small, loosely regulated food producers to clean up their act.
China is struggling to salvage its reputation as a safe exporter. Importers of Chinese goods, especially the United States, have grown extremely wary as the list of products tainted with deadly toxins and dangerously high levels of chemicals grows each day.
Starting in September, all food exported from China will have an inspection and quarantine symbol to guarantee safety, the government said.
China also told small-scale producers to renovate their operations to meet hygiene standards or be shut down. The measures are part of China's efforts to clarify regulations, tighten enforcement and clean up corruption—factors underpinning its poor food safety record.
Inspection agencies at all levels need to recognize that ''the process will take a long time and the work is complicated and difficult,'' the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said on its Web site.
The food and drug watchdog said the 2008 Olympics would give China a chance to prove to the world that it was capable of setting a new standard for food safety and raise awareness domestically about the issue.
China's small-scale food producers have been accused of unsanitary production conditions, using tainted or substandard ingredients and failing to register with authorities. While their products generally are sold only in local areas, their continued existence helps explain why China is facing a food crisis.
Many will not survive the new regulations and their numbers are expected to be halved by 2009, with all properly certified by 2012, the administration said.
The regulations also target the use of recycled ingredients, unapproved additives, and banned substances.
China did not specify how it defines a small-scale producer, or give other details. There are 448,000 food processing businesses in China by the government's count. Of those, 353,000—or 78.7 percent—have 10 employees or less.
In its notice, the quality administration said about half—or 223,297—factories it inspected nationwide were not completely certified. Another 164,149 had no certificate at all, it said.
Most manufactured commonly consumed food like rice, wheat powder, soybeans, wine and cooking oil.
Chinese authorities said last month that they had closed 180 food factories since December after inspectors found formaldehyde, illegal dyes and industrial wax being used to make candy, pickles, crackers and seafood. All had fewer than 10 employees.
Another regulating agency said it shut 152,000 unlicensed food producers and retailers last year for making and selling fake and low-quality products.
Amid such concerns, the execution of Zheng Xiaoyu, who headed the State Food and Drug Administration from 1997 to 2005, was the strongest indication yet of Beijing's determination to improve product safety.
In a commentary, the Communist Party's mouthpiece People's Daily newspaper said Zheng's execution was warranted because of the serious consequences of approving untested medicine in return for millions of dollars in cash and gifts.
''He damaged the interests of the country and the people to a large extent,'' the newspaper said.
Bogus drugs approved by Zheng included an antibiotic blamed in the deaths of at least 10 people.
Wu Zhen, the administration's vice director, said new regulations on drug approvals will take effect in October.
Wu also said that leukemia drugs produced by the Shanghai Hualian Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. were found to be safe after an investigation.
His agency suspended the sale of the company's methotrexate when patients in Guangxi autonomous region in southern China and in Shanghai said they suffered leg pain and could not walk after taking the medication.
The drug is widely used to treat leukemia and other cancers as well as autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
''Difficulty in walking is a normal adverse reaction of the medicine,'' Wu said at a news conference broadcast on the Internet.
The agency and the Health Ministry will send a joint team to Shanghai and Guangxi for further investigation, he said without elaborating.
Meanwhile, SFDA director Shao Mingli was quoted Wednesday on the administration's Web site as saying that Beijing was capable of controlling food safety during the 2008 Summer Games.
China's food safety work for the Summer Games would serve as a ''model for food safety work in China'' and for future Olympic events, he said.