When the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was caught violating the law, he was charged with two misdemeanors. When the former director of China's State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) was convicted on corruption charges, he was sentenced to death.

Zheng Xiaoyu and his family and associates allegedly took bribes amounting to more than five million yuan, about $650,000 in U.S. terms.

In October 2006, former U.S. FDA head Lester M. Crawford pleaded guilty to a conflict of interest charge and making false financial disclosures to the U.S. Senate and the Executive Branch. He was sentenced to three years probation.

Prosecutors said Zheng, 63, took the bribes to approve faulty medicines, including a bad batch of antibiotics that killed six patients and sickened 80.

The harsh sentence is seen as a signal that the Chinese government is serious about cleaning up the widespread corruption that is beginning to give the rapidly-developing nation a black eye in the global marketplace.

The safety of Chinese food and drugs is a growing concern, highlighted by the recent pet food poisonings that killed and sickened thousands of animals in the U.S. and elsewhere and the discovery that Chinese toothpaste sold in Latin America might be contaminated with a poisonous chemical.

Toy Safety

Meanwhile, a Chinese government study found that 23% of toys made in China failed to meet quality and safety standards.

The products were not intended for export, although China is among the world's biggest exporters of children's toys and clothing, as well as inexpensive household products. Many of the products recalled each year by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are made in China.

In the latest survey, the government said many toys had small parts that could easily be swallowed by infants, sharp edges that could cut children or other obvious defects.

In 2004, a rash of infant deaths was blamed on fake milk powder sold by several manufacturers in Anhui province. An inspection this year found 95% of milk-powder companies met government standards.