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Dishonesty centre of 'Junen crisis?'
By Ding Qinfeng (China Business Weekly)
Updated: 2004-12-05 09:23

Junen Calcium health products remain on many people's minds, even several days after having caused a nationwide furore.

Hydrogen peroxide is reportedly found in calcium tablets produced by Beijing-based Juneng New Technology Co. [newsphoto]

"The 'Junen Calcium crisis' will deal a hard blow to China's health-product industry, which is underdeveloped, although the authenticity of the report is still in limbo," Wang Dahong told China Business Weekly.

Wang is secretary-general of the Commission for Health Product Study, which is affiliated with the National Food and Drug Administration.

Bai Rundai, a reporter with Henan News, revealed in an article published on November 16 that seven of Junen Calcium's 11 health-related products contain hydrogen peroxide.

The newspaper reported those seven products contain between 1.04 grams to 6.28 grams of hydrogen peroxide per kilogram.

Hydrogen peroxide, or H2O2, is a substance that has been linked to both cancer and cardiovascular diseases. It destroys cells of organs and kills bacteria that benefit people's bodies.

China's Law on Food and Health stipulates hydrogen peroxide cannot be an ingredient in food.

Henan News' article was based on a report written after a study was conducted, a few weeks ago, by the National Centre for Agri-food Quality Inspection and Supervision Test (NCAQIST).

The report is widely expected to affect the health-product sector in China.

Enterprises in China must make honesty the focal point of their operations, Wang suggested.

Crisis continues?

Officials from the Centre for Health Supervision, affiliated with the Ministry of Health (MOH), with relevant experts, began investigating Junen Calcium's health products on November 19.

Although the investigators have not released their findings, not even an initial report, there is one thing that is beyond disputes - the "hydrogen peroxide" remains in Junen Calcium's products.

Li Chengfeng, chairman of Beijing-based Juneng Industry Co Ltd, producer of Junen Calcium, admits some of the firm's products contain hydrogen peroxide.

Huang Kunlun, vice-director of NCAQIST, said the centre's experts studied all of Junen Calcium's health-related products, and determined some contained hydrogen peroxide.

Li, however, countered the allegation that the products contain between 20-24 milligrams of hydrogen peroxide.

Li, who refused to comment specifically on NCAQIST's figures, questioned whether the centre was qualified to conduct such a study.

Generally, only those organizations designated by the central government are qualified to test and evaluate the safety and toxicity of health-related products.

The centre, Li argued, has not been so designated.

Junen Calcium went into damage-control mode almost immediately after Henan News broke the story.

The firm held a news conference on November 19, at which time Li claimed Henan News had sensationalized the story.

Henan News' officials countered the claim with the statement, "Facts speak louder than words."

Li, on November 20, communicated directly with the public, online, for two hours. He said Junen Calcium's health-related products were 100-per-cent safe.

The company's public relations efforts apparently have had little effect.

A leading Chinese website, www.sina.com, has reported most of Junen Calcium's health-related products have been removed from the nation's major drug stores - including Jinxiang, Tongrentang and Jiashitang.

"Sales of Junen Calcium's health products have fallen substantially ... as many products have been returned," Li said.

Questioning honesty

Withdrawal of the products has affected Juneng's performance, however, the company should be concerned about the "domino effect" resulting from the crisis, Li said.

"It will probably lead to a crisis in China's health-product industry, shattering consumers' confidence in the safety of health products, and in enterprises' honesty," Wang said.

"The 'Junen Calcium crisis' speaks volumes about the dishonesty in the reputations of enterprises' brands," Wang said.

On the one hand, even though Li says only a few of the products contain small amounts of hydrogen peroxide, "the company has violated the relevant laws and regulations," Wang said.

"What's more, the amount of hydrogen peroxide is probably much higher than what the company claims, even though the investigation's findings are not available."

On the other hand, "Juneng should have informed consumers about the existence of the hydrogen peroxide in the products, and explained that small amounts of hydrogen peroxide will not harm people's health," Wang said.

"Juneng should be embarrassed that it must pay for its dishonesty," Wang said.

Some of Junen Calcium's products - before entering the market - were inspected by MOH officials in 1996.

However, they were not tested for hydrogen peroxide, according to an official from Juneng on condition of anonymity said.

MOH officials were not immediately available for comment.

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