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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 May 2007, 08:22 GMT 09:22 UK
Death penalty for China official
Grab from TV footage of Zheng Xiaoyu in court
Zheng Xiaoyu was accused of accepting some $850,000 in bribes
China has sentenced the former head of the State Food and Drug Administration to death after he was convicted of corruption, state media has reported.

Zheng Xiaoyu was convicted on charges of taking bribes and of dereliction of duty, Xinhua news agency reported.

The sentence is unusually harsh for a senior figure, but Zheng could have his sentence reduced to life on appeal.

The verdict came as the government announced plans for the first ever recall system of unsafe food products.

Beijing has been under pressure to act over increasing concern both at home and abroad about the poor standards of Chinese-produced food and medicines.

Name poisoned

State television showed footage of a grey-haired Zheng - who was expelled from the Communist Party earlier this year - appearing in court in Beijing flanked by police officers.

He had been accused by an official investigation last month of accepting more than 6.5m yuan ($850,000) in bribes to approve hundreds of drugs.

One company, Kongliyuan Group, allegedly paid Zheng bribes in return for approving 277 drugs, mostly antibiotics.

Zheng's former secretary, Cao Wenzhuang, also faced trial, accused of accepting bribes.

Thirty-one other people were also alleged to have been involved in the scandal, including Zheng's wife, Liu Naixue, and his son, Zheng Hairong.

Following Zheng's sacking in 2005, the Chinese government announced a review of about 170,000 medical licences that were awarded during his tenure at the agency.

Dozens of people have died in China because of poor quality or fake drugs.

Last year, a sub-standard antibiotic, Xinfu, which was not properly sterilised, caused the deaths of 11 people.

Thirteen babies died of malnutrition in 2005 after being fed powdered milk that contained no nutritional value.

The Chinese government recently announced an urgent review of industry food standards after public alarm over a recent spate of cases.

US inspectors blamed exported Chinese pet food ingredients, contaminated with melamine, for the deaths of cats and dogs in North America.

And they recently halted shipments of toothpaste from China to investigate reports that they may be contaminated with toxic chemicals.

On Tuesday, as Zheng was sentenced, the government said a new recall process targeting "potentially dangerous and unapproved food products" would be brought in by the end of the year.

"All domestic and foreign food producers and distributors will be obliged to follow the system," Wu Jianping, of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, was quoted as saying.

Zheng Xiaoyu sentenced to death on state television

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