San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

China Blames Panamanian Importer for Poison Medicine

BEIJING – The Chinese government said May 31 that Panamanian import firm Medicom is to blame for the contamination of medicines that killed 100 people in the Central American nation last year.

 China’s deputy minister for quality control, inspection and quarantine, Wei Chuanzhong, said that the Spanish company Rasfer Internacional, which acted as intermediary, knew what it was buying.

Wei presented the results of the Chinese government-led investigation into the tainted Panamanian medicine, as well as into Panama’s importation of China-made toothpaste that contained the same harmful substance as the deadly medications – diethylene glycol – and was subsequently exported to other Central American countries (NT, June 1).

Diethylene glycol is used as antifreeze and brake fluid.

The deputy minister said Medicom is responsible for changing the original label of the product from “Glycerine TD” – which contains the potentially deadly substance and whose use in the production of medicines in China is prohibited – to “Glycerine.”

He added that the firm was to blame for saying the substance was suitable for use in medical products and for extending the expiration date from one to four years.

“When the laboratory of Panama’s Social Security Institute (the state health-care system) made the medicines in 2006, the Glycerine TD’s (shelf life) had already expired two years earlier,”Wei said.

The deputy minister also noted that the Spanish intermediary Rasfer knew that the product that it imported from China in 2003 was Glycerine TD.

“In the e-mail exchanged between Fortune Way (the Chinese distributor) and Rasfer Internacional, it is clear that the use of Glycerine TD is not authorized in Chinese (medicine production),” he said.

However, Rasfer’s Susi Criado said in Barcelona earlier this month that Medicom requested “the cheapest pure glycerin” and that the Spanish firm distributed the product after the agent in China (

Fortune Way

), certified that the product was 99.5% pure glycerin.

Regarding the toothpaste, Wei said that the tubes of the two exported products, “Mr. Cool” and “Excel,” indicate that they contained diethylene glycol, whose use in toothpaste in low concentrations is not dangerous, according to Chinese studies, and is accepted in the Asian nation.

However, as a result of the Panamanian case, Beijing will officially establish the amount of the substance that the toothpastes contain and will strictly monitor manufacturers and exporters to ensure the products are safe.


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