China sweeps up dozens in whirlwind drug-capsule probe

Chinese police are all over the chromium-tainted drug capsules. They've detained 45 people, arrested 9 people and seized 77 million contaminated capsules, Reuters reports. Eighty illegal production lines also got the ax, officials said in their latest dispatch about the cleanup efforts, issued Sunday.

The drug-capsule scandal is the latest in a long line. The heparin brouhaha that attracted so much attention a few years ago--and put the FDA in the hot seat on foreign inspections--is just the most visible example. Shoddy manufacturing and substandard ingredients have tainted everything from cancer drugs to baby formula, and from toothpaste to dog food.

In this case, capsulemakers chose to use industrial-grade gelatin, rather than food-grade. The industrial variety contains much more chromium than the edible variety does. And as in previous cases, Chinese officials have publicly taken a hard line against the practice. "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," the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement (as quoted by Reuters).

The problem is, China is a vast country with a vast number of small companies. Policing them all would be difficult enough for a regulatory apparatus as advanced as those in Europe or the U.S., but as Reuters notes, China's oversight is still evolving.

- read the Reuters news