China Milk Scandal Convictions Upheld


A Chinese court has upheld the sentences of the people held responsible for the melamine milk contamination scandal that killed 6 babies and sickened more than 300,000 children in China late last year.

The trials which began late December last year handed out a death sentence to Zhang Yujun, convicted of producing and selling the tainted milk, and a life sentence against Zhang Yanzhang, who acted as a middle man in supplying the toxic product to dairies. Both these sentences have been upheld. The ruling also affirmed a death sentence for Geng Jinping and an eight-year-jail term for Geng Jinzhu, convicted in January of producing and selling poisoned food by adding the chemical melamine to milk, which made its way into baby milk formula and other products.

The former chief executive of the now defunct Sanlu Group, China’s largest milk firm lost her appeal against a life sentence for selling hundreds of tonnes melanine laced milk products. Tian Wenhua (66) was the highest-ranking executive charged over the scandal.

In a separate case, a Chinese court has agreed to hear the first civil claim for compensation against Sanlu. A number of parents have rejected a government-sponsored compensation scheme, saying it is inadequate, and does not address the long-term health risks resulting from the poisoning.

There have been reports of victims’ parents complaining of  harassment  by Chinese local authorities pressurizing them to drop lawsuits demanding compensation from the dairies.

In December Sanlu and 21 other dairy companies offered 200,000 yuan ($29,000) to each family whose child had died, 30,000 yuan ($4,400) for serious illnesses such as kidney stones and acute kidney failure, and 2,000 yuan ($293) in less severe cases.

The Chinese melamine contaminated milk scandal led to the recent enactment of a law consolidating hundreds of disparate regulations covering the country’s 500,000 food processing companies.

The Chinese government has since fired eight senior regulators (in the country’s major food supervisory agencies, including the ministries of health and agriculture and the top food safety watchdog) for “slack supervision”.


Scholar’s Corner: Recent Scholarly Works in Global Health Law

Dangerous Perspectives: The Perils of Individualizing Public Health Problems

Wendy E. Parmet
Northeastern University – School of Law

Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 31-2009
Journal of Legal Medicine, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 83-108, 2009

In the spring of 2007, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it had issued its first quarantine order on an individual in over 40 years. The subject of the order, Atlanta attorney Andrew Speaker, had traveled to Europe after being diagnosed with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and had returned to the U.S. after CDC had asked him to remain in Italy based on the erroneous belief that he had extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis. During the ensuing uproar and media circus lawmakers compared Speaker to a terrorist and demanded that the government take tough actions to protect the public against such cases in the future.

This paper uses the Speaker case to examine both the causes and consequences of what I term “the dangerous person perspective.” This perspective identifies both the risk of and responsibility for disease with particular individuals (such as Speaker or Typhoid Mary) and presupposes that public health can be protected only if action is taken against those individuals. The paper uses several social science theories, especially social amplification theory and behavioral economics, to explain the tendency to identify diseases with particular individuals and treat them as if they were morally culpable for their illness, as well as the reasons why we tend to ignore broader social determinants of health. The paper then discusses the implications of this identification for both public health policy and public health law. For public health, the dangerous person perspective is problematic because it offers the false promise that health can be protected by acting against particular individuals while distracting policymakers from undertaking more effective interventions. In addition, the dangerous person perspective encourages policies that are highly coercive and very stigmatizing. Such policies are apt to be ineffective and even counterproductive, as they undermine the relationship between affected populations and public health officials. For public health law, the dangerous person perspective leads to an over-emphasis on emergency powers and an exaggeration of the conflict between individual rights and public health. Perhaps most disturbing, like fears of terrorism, the dangerous person perspective encourages undue deference to the extraordinary powers of executive officials. In short, the fear aroused by the dangerous person perspective can threaten the role of the rule of law in public health.

Available at SSRN.

Federal Judge Rules that Plan B Must Be Made Available to 17-Year-Olds Without Prescriptions; Labels FDA’s Actions Political

On March 23, 2009, U.S. Federal District Judge Edward Korman, writing for the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of New York, ordered the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) to permit Barr Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Plan B, to make Plan B available to 17-year-olds without a prescription in the same manner as the drug is currently available to women age 18 and over.  (For the full opinion, click here)

The Court ruled that the FDA’s denial of nonprescription status was a political one that went against the recommendations of a panel of medical and scientific experts the FDA had appointed.  According to Judge Korman, under the Bush administration, the FDA had “repeatedly and unreasonably” delayed issuing a decision on the nonprescription status. 

The Court remanded to the FDA final determination on age and prescription requirements, but mandated that the drug be made available to 17-year-olds without prescription in light of the evidence that was presented at trial:

[T]he matter is remanded to the FDA for reconsideration of whether to approve Plan B for over-the-counter status without age or point-of-sale restrictions.  While the FDA is free, on remand, to exercise its expertise and discretion regarding the proper disposition of the Citizen Petition, no useful purpose would be served by continuing to deprive 17 year olds access to Plan B without a prescription.  Indeed, the record shows that FDA officials and staff both agreed that 17 years olds can use Plan B safely without a prescription.  The FDA’s justification for this age restriction, that pharmacists would be unable to enforce the prescription requirement if the cutoff were age 17, rather than 18, lacks all credibility.

The lawsuit was filed in 2005 by the Center for Reproductive Rights and others after the FDA denied a petition asking it to make Plan B available without a prescription to women of all ages. 

“Today’s ruling is a tremendous victory for all Americans who expect the government to safeguard public health,” said Nancy Northup, president of the center.

Plan B reduces the chance of pregnancy if taken within three days after sex. It works by preventing ovulation or fertilization and interfering with implantation of a fertilized egg, which some people consider the equivalent of abortion.

Scholar’s Corner: Recent Scholarly Works in Global Health Law

Science, Politics, and Values: The Politicization of Professional Practice Guidelines

Lawrence O. Gostin
Georgetown University Law Center – O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law; Georgetown University Law Center

John Kraemer
Georgetown University – Law Center

Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 301, No. 6, pp. 665-667, 2009
Georgetown University O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law Scholarship Paper No. 20

The Connecticut Attorney General’s recent allegations that the Infectious Disease Society of America violated antitrust law through its treatment guidelines for Lyme disease were neither based in sound science or appropriate legal judgment. Strong scientific evidence favors IDSA’s position that chronic infection with the etiologic agent of Lyme disease does not occur in the absence of objective signs of ongoing infection and that long-term antibiotic use to treat dubious infection, recommended in the quasi-scientific guidelines put forth by the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS), are of no benefit. In siding with ILADS and other chronic Lyme disease advocates, ultimately forcing IDSA to settle lest it expend exorbitant legal costs, the attorney general abused science and his public trust. This case exemplifies the politicization of health policy and confuses the relative spheres inhabited by normative discourse and scientific inquiry. Science should provide the evidentiary base for normative discussions, and values and politics will always be important in deciding how science is applied for human benefit. But a wall of separation is needed between science, values, and politics, as medical science, and the patients who depend on it, is too important for political distortion.

Available at SSRN.