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Zhejiang's "Toxic Capsule" Town
Summary:The factories using industrial gelatin to make pills were closed soon after CCTV reported the scandal, but the workers themselves had long avoided the pills.


By Chen Yong (
Nation, page 12
Issue No. 567
April 30, 2012
Translated by Zhu Na
Original article: [Chinese]

Since it featured in a CCTV report about the manufacture of drug capsules with industrial gelatin, the town of Ruao (儒岙) become synonymous with poison.

Journalists descended on the town, which was known as the “home of China’s capsules”, after the report was broadcast on April 15.

All this attention has embarrassed the local leaders in Xinchang County (新昌县), Zhejiang province. They set up an investigation team, shut down the factories making capsules and sought advice from the public.

The head of local news office, Yu Hongjun (俞鸿骏) has been working late ever since, helping reporters to set up interviews. Yu said that his town is in danger of becoming known as “the home of toxic capsules.”

One local government official told the EO that now no one dares to give comments anymore and that those who did had been reprimanded.

He said that the county is waiting for things to calm down and working with the national and provincial departments to crack down on the factories.

"The capsules don’t generate much tax revenue… it will be fine if they’re all shut."

The local government says Ruao’s factories made 100 billion capsules in 2011, when they generated 883.7 million yuan from sales and  contributed 9 million yuan to Xinchang’s fiscal receipts, or less than 10 percent of the county’s total.

For the 430,000 people who live in Xinchang, the deluge of reporters felt like an invading force - 20 fully armed policemen were even stationed in a car park opposite the county government’s office.

"All the problems have been exaggerated, no one looked for the real causes," said the general manager of one capsule maker, adding that nobody has asked about how the companies are regulated.

Pan said that it was unreasonable to pin all the blame on the manufactures because the official policies and regulations were inadequate. He added that government tenders for drug suppliers only took prices into account.

The manager admitted that gelatin from cows’ and pigs’ skin is commonly used to make drugs, but said that legitimate businesses tend not to use industrial gelatin.

The food and drug regulators are only responsible for pharmaceutical gelatin, and quality supervision departments are responsible for edible gelatin, said Kong Dinghong, the Deputy Director of Xinchang County Food and Drug Administration.

Although the capsule makers ought to be using pharmaceutical gelatin, edible gelatin is also acceptable as long as the chromium content is within the legal limits.

One local capsule manufacturer said that the local inspectors’ tests were too simplistic to determine whether the capsules contained unsafe amounts of chromium.

When a problem is found in a batch of drugs, the pills are destroyed and the manufacturer is penalized 20,000 yuan to 50,000 yuan, but many firms don’t care – they use a couple of tons of industrial gelatin and can afford to pay the fines.

Li Hongju (李鸿举), a Ruao resident, said that most people in the town wouldn’t use the pills themselves. A third of Ruao’s 30,000 population is employed in the capsule industry.

One local official, Sheng Xuedong (盛学东), said that the town took the poison pill scandal seriously and had to address the problem of unpaid workers and the tension that the unemployment could create.

One official who declined to be named said that the local image was always the priority and that there would be a trip to rebrand the town, he also questioned why other major pill makers in Jiangsu and Shandong had been spared by the media.

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