Only two days ago, China sought to turn the tables by declaring that some recent imports of raisins from the US did not meet its safety standards and destroyed them. That was apparently in retaliation to the barrage of criticism over the safety of a variety of products exported by China.
But the Asian giant's satisfaction remained shortlived. Now Chinese investigators themselves admit that nearly 60 hospitals and pharmacies in the north-eastern part of the country have been using fake blood protein in patients' drips. Albumin, or plasma protein, is used to treat patients suffering from shock and burns and during open-heart surgery.
Experts suggest that the fake product could be life-threatening for those already in a serious condition. The food and drug administration in the north-eastern state of Jilin found 18 hospitals and more than 30 pharmacies sold or were selling false batches of the albumin. "There was no element of protein, so it could not perform its intended function," said the administration's deputy director, Xu Fei.
"These were out-and-out fakes," he added. Officials did not say whether anyone had died or fallen ill through using the false protein, though one Chinese newspaper said it had led to one death.
China Central Television cited an official saying those making the false albumin were making a 300% profit, assisted by shortages of the genuine product.
The administration said its investigations had "effectively cleaned up the market". China has launched a nationwide clampdown on counterfeit products after a series of scandals. In one of the worst cases 13 babies died from malnutrition after being fed fake baby milk. Last month the country's top food and drug regulator was sentenced to death for taking bribes to approve medicines not properly tested for safety.
And tainted Chinese toothpaste has been blamed for dozens of deaths in Panama. Anti-malarial drugs and pet food have also been found to contain contaminated or fake ingredients. The US and European Union have expressed concern over food and drug imports from China, and have pressed Beijing to improve its oversight.