FDA Matters Blog
Register to get regular updates from FDA Matters FDA Matters Home

Executions in China: A Thanksgiving Message

Sometimes it takes other people to give us a perspective on our own values.

Today, Associated Press reports that two men were executed in China for tainting milk powder with melamine, an industrial chemical. The adulterated milk killed at least six children and reportedly sickened more than 300,000. Those executed were the dairy farmer and milk salesman who were at the center of the scheme. The general manager of the dairy company, Sanlu Group, received a life sentence after pleading guilty.

A little over two years ago, China executed Zheng Xiaoyu, the head of China’s FDA for accepting bribes to allow untested drugs to be approved for marketing. His deputy was given a death sentence that sources believed would be commuted to life imprisonment.

Should we be thankful that we live in a “civilized” society where executions are rare and limited to murders, rapists and child molesters? Even a sentence of “life imprisonment” is rarely meted out to non-violent criminals.

Or should we wonder why we aren’t we more serious about intentional gross negligence that has the likely outcome that someone will die? I believe the Chinese would argue that the farmer and the salesman were as responsible as if they had held a gun to the head of six children and murdered them. In the US, the consequence of murdering children in this fashion would likely be execution or life imprisonment.

This suggests that we are not so far apart from the Chinese in our outrage at murder and toward murderers. This has been part of the rules of civilization for several millennia, but not respected in all countries of the world today. We should be thankful to live in a society that considers the most severe punishments as appropriate for murder.

What is different (and interesting) is the concept of a heinous crime. The worst possible interpretation is these were commercially-motivated executions, designed to show the world that the Chinese are tough and their products getting safer. Even still, six murders were involved in the milk tainting case and one purpose of punishment is deterrence. Whatever we may think, those considering crimes involving fake foods and drugs will think twice (and twice again?) before proceeding in China.

We haven’t sent the same message to would-be malefactors in the US. Given this, we should be thankful to FDA for every day we don’t encounter willfully adulterated foods and intentionally fake and dangerous drugs and devices.


PS: To anticipate and deflect some outraged feedback, this column is specifically about gross negligence where the person knew or should have known in advance that someone would die. Such events occur more often than any of us would acknowledge, although it is not an “every day” event in the United States.

November 24. 2009 news story on executions in the tainted milk scandals:


July 10, 2007 news story on the execution of the head of China’s FDA:


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

© 2009-2012 by HPS Group. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to those wishing to quote or reprint from this site, providing it is properly attributed to FDA Matters: The Grossman FDA Report™.