New case of illegal food additives cracked in Hunan

Updated: 2011-04-29 08:18

By Wang Huazhong and Jin Zhu (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Sixteen people have been detained on the suspicion that they had sold a banned additive used to produce greater amounts of lean meat in livestock, according to police in Central China's Hunan province.

The case is the latest to reveal an extensive use of "lean meat powder", which cause lean meat to grow faster in livestock. The type of powder suspected of being used in this case is called ractopamine.

In March, a similar chemical, clenbuterol, was found in meat supplied to China's largest meat processor, Henan-based Shuanghui Group.

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The latest revelation shows that China's troubles with such additives are far from eliminated.

"(Police) have detained 16 chief suspects in this case, which affects 16 provinces and municipalities," Xu Hu, a senior official with the Ministry of Public Security, told China Central Television (CCTV).

In March 2010, a regular test conducted by husbandry authorities in Longhui county, Hunan province, found ractopamine in the feed given to local pigs.

Local police started an investigation and, through that work, came upon a large network manufacturing the banned additive.

Luo Fan, a 34-year-old Hubei native, has allegedly spent 2.6 million yuan ($399,830) to buy more than 2,000 kilograms of ractopamine since 2008. The additive came from a manufacturer in Zhejiang and another in Tianjin, according to Hunan police.

Luo sold the chemical to feed factories in 16 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, according to CCTV.

Tracking the source of Luo's additive, police in March seized 420 kg of semi-finished ractopamine, 510 kg of raw materials and 27 machines that produced the additive in a workshop in Jiujiang city, Jiangxi province.

Chen Qiuliang, one of the manufacturers supplying Luo, could make 200 yuan in profit by selling a kg of the chemical for 1,200 yuan. To start his business, he invested 5 million yuan and has already recovered that cost.

Luo bought the "lean meat powder" from Chen and then sold it for 2,200 yuan a kg to feed producers.

According to experts, a spoonful of ractopamine blended with a ton of animal feed will encourage the growth of fat-free meat in livestock. But the additive's effects on humans are dire.

Those who eat meat tainted with ractopamine will suffer from vomiting and diarrhea. Those who have heart diseases can die.

A search on Google and Baidu using the word "ractopamine" yielded websites for many businesses that said they would sell the chemical at a reasonable price.

Liang Haoyi, a researcher at the China Animal Agriculture Association, said the recent case reveals serious flaws in the country's system of ensuring food safety, which mainly relies on spot checks.

Such checks cannot attest that each animal raised for food is safe for consumption. The government should therefore encourage local residents to report any knowledge they have of the illegal use of additives, he said.

Liang also called on the government to strive harder to cut off the supply of the toxic ingredients.

The State Administration for Industry and Commerce on Wednesday asked local administrators to establish files to record the credentials and the violations of businesses in the food industry. Its goal is to build a system that supervises the entire process used to bring food from the farm to the store shelf and ultimately to customers.

Since April 20, the food safety authorities have been waging a one-year campaign to eliminate the "lean meat powder" issue.

In the wake of a series of scandals about the safety of food and drink in China, a committee under the State Council published on April 23 a list of 151 ingredients and additives that have been banned during the past nine years.

The blacklist publicized by the food safety committee contains 47 "inedible" materials that have been used in the production of food, 22 additives that are prone to being abused and 82 substances that are not allowed in animal feed or water.


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