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Sat, Dec 08, 2007 - Page 10 News List

Health scare halts Maling exports

FOOD SAFETY The Chinese firm said that it was probing claims a shipment to Hong Kong was contaminated with nitrofurans, an antibiotic believed to be carcinogenic

AGENCIES , SHANGHAI

One of China's best-known food processors halted luncheon meat exports yesterday on reports of chemical contamination, while the government announced the closure of more than 1,000 slaughterhouses over poor sanitation.

Those steps come amid a campaign to uncover potentially unsafe foods and other products and tighten government supervision over production. Those came after Chinese exports of products such as pet food ingredients and toothpaste were found to be contaminated with dangerous chemicals this year.

In a statement, Shanghai-based Maling Food Co said it had sent top executives to Hong Kong to help investigate allegations a shipment of its meat was contaminated with the antibiotic nitrofurans, which is thought to cause cancer.

"We take this issue very seriously and immediately took relevant measures, asking the Hong Kong authorities to recall the affected products," Maling said in a statement on its Web site.

A Maling employee who was answeringcalls to the company said that for the moment it had no comment apart from the statement on its Web site.

Officials at the Shanghai Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau would not comment but referred callers to a brief notice about the investigation posted on its Web site.

The export suspension was extended to all of Maling's canned food products, which include meat, seafood, fruits and vegetables, the company said.

Begun more than 75 years ago, Maling is one of China's most famous brands and its luncheon meat is as well known to Chinese consumers as Spam is in the US. Shares of parent company, Shanghai Maling Aquarius Co, trade on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

A huge jump in prices for pork, a staple of the Chinese diet, has prompted authorities to enact tough measures to cut down on illegal activities and ensure supplies.

As of late last month, 1,452 slaughterhouses responsible for processing pigs had been shuttered for failing to meet standards or violating regulations, the Commerce Ministry said on its Web site.

Another 6,396 private slaughterhouses operating without licenses had been closed and more than 864,000kg of unhealthy meat destroyed, the ministry said.

Details of the violations were not given, but officials have repeatedly sought to end illicit practices such as injecting live animals and their meat with filthy water to boost sale weight.

Unsafe storage, rot and adulteration with other foods or chemicals are also concerns.

Meanwhile, China halted the import of a batch of Procter & Gamble potato chips from the US for containing a banned additive, state media reported on Friday.

But a China-based P&G spokesman blamed the Chinese importer and said the shipment had nothing to do with the US firm.

Inspectors in July stopped a 95kg batch of BBQ-flavored Pringles for containing potassium bromate, a flour-enhancing additive, according to a notice posted on the Web site of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

Potassium bromate is banned as a food additive in China and Europe, but permitted in the US under prescribed conditions. It has been deemed potentially harmful by some studies if consumed in excessive amounts and may be carcinogenic.

The importer, Zhuhai Duty Free Enterprises Group, had already pulled the chips from shelves, the China Daily said, citing a company official. The chips had also been pulled from shelves in Hong Kong, media said this week.

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