China detains dozens in poison drug capsule scandal

BEIJING, April 23 Sun Apr 22, 2012 10:32pm EDT

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BEIJING, April 23 (Reuters) - Chinese police have detained 45 people, arrested nine and seized more than 77 million capsules tainted with chromium in China's latest product safety scandal, which has aroused widespread public concern despite repeated pledges to get tough.

The government said the companies involved sold gel capsules made with industrial gelatin, which contains a far higher chromium content than the edible gelatin they should have used.

In a statement issued late on Sunday, the Ministry of Public Security said they had also shut down 80 illegal production lines after a week of inspections centred on Zhejiang, Hebei and Jiangxi provinces.

"The ministry is paying top level attention to the case of excess chromium in capsules of medical use, and is dispatching investigation teams on a daily basis," it said in the statement carried on its website (www.mps.gov.cn).

The ministry "is pushing with all its strength for speedy investigations and speedy resolutions", the statement said.

The ministry did not provide details on who it had detained or arrested, nor what charges they might face.

While there have been no reports of deaths or sickness caused by taking the contaminated capsules, long-term exposure to chromium can cause serious organ damage.

China has been beset by food and drug safety scandals over the past few years.

In 2008, at least six children died and nearly 300,000 became ill from powdered milk laced with melamine, an industrial chemical added to low quality or diluted milk to fool inspectors by giving misleadingly high readings for protein levels.

While the government has repeatedly vowed to crack down, tackling the issue has not been helped by China's confused and still developing regulatory environment.

"They are treated as neither food nor drugs. Related authorities have limited knowledge about how capsules would affect people's health," Wang Chengdong at the China University of Political Science and Law told the official China Daily on Monday. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)

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