China's watchdog for aquatic product safety will launch a
nationwide inspection program targeting forbidden chemicals used in
fish, the vice-director of the fisheries bureau under the Ministry
of Agriculture announced on Monday.
"Special teams will be sent to check markets throughout the
country from now till the end of the year," Chen Yide said at a
press conference in Beijing.
Chen also listed other efforts including encouraging the use of
better newly hatched fish and building an improved nationwide
China has been confronted with food security problems recently.
Mandarin fish from Guangdong Province and turbot from Shandong were found to contain poisonous
And ducks and hens in Hebei Province were fed a red dye so that
their red-yolk eggs would sell for a higher price. Last week it was
discovered that the dye was carcinogenic.
Chen attributed the frequent food scares to outdated inspection
methods and facilities as well as poorly supervised veterinary
practices. He said the vast distribution networks and huge number
of food producers had added to the difficulties.
In Hong Kong the sale of mandarin fish was banned on Sunday
after the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department found samples
contaminated with malachite green dye which can cause cancer. A
Hong Kong newspaper reported the department tested 15 one-kilogram
samples and found high levels of malachite dye in 11 of them.
A Hong Kong supermarket spokesman said the mandarin fish they
sell comes from a registered fish market in south China's Guangdong
Province. The market that supplies the fish had health and
In a random check of three hotels in Guangzhou yesterday the
Guangzhou Hotel and the Guangzhou Victory Hotel were reportedly
still selling dishes of mandarin fish in their restaurants. The
Guangzhou Baiyun Hotel, however, said it had stopped serving fish
dishes because of the news.
Malachite green contamination was detected in a number of
freshwater fish last year including carp and mandarin. The Hong
Kong government has released a list of fish markets it's
Many cities including Beijing have banned the sale of turbot in
markets and restaurants after Shanghai announced that it had
detected excessive amounts of carcinogenic nitrofuran and
chloromycetin in 30 samples of the fish.
Some farmers reportedly fed the fish large quantities of
medicinal supplements, which leave cancer-causing residue, to
increase their resistance to disease.
Regarding the red-yolk eggs the Ministry of Agriculture said
yesterday that seven poultry farms in Hebei and one in Zhejiang were found to have used Sudan red dye
from 5,598 farms inspected.
But a check of 2,430 poultry feed factories found that none had
produced any Sudan red-dyed products.
A total of 10,400 ducks as well as 2,025 kilograms of duck eggs
were destroyed during the inspection and 800 kilograms of poultry
feed was quarantined for further inspection.
In east China's Shandong Province, where 70 percent of the
country's turbot is raised, the poisonous fish were traced to three
Zhang Yuxiang, Ministry of Agriculture spokeswoman, said food
producers were encouraged to seek cooperation with fixed buyer
markets to ensure a more mature access scheme. Also the ministry
said it would broaden the scope of its inspection to include more
additives as well as increase inspection frequency.
"Any problem detected during the inspection will be soon traced
to its source," Zhang said. "Related bureaus will make timely
efforts to minimize the negative influence."
In another development the Ministry of Commerce said it was
drafting new rules for food product distribution which would be
issued soon. Wholesalers and retail food markets would be required
to sign agreements with vendors defining their food quality
responsibilities and markets would be encouraged to establish links
New rules will also include more detailed trading information
and a more effective system to remove tainted food from the
Experts have called for an urgent update of the food safety law.
"The food safety legal system begun in 1995 can't keep up with the
latest developments in food safety," Zhang Yongjian, executive
director of the Food and Drug Industrial Development and
Supervision Research Center under the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences (CASS), told China Daily.
"The current law leaves loopholes for illegal food producers,
decreases and delays law enforceability." He stressed the need for
stronger enforcement of the current and future food safety laws.
"Even if we had complete regulations if they're not strictly
enforced we won't achieve any improvement in food safety
supervision at all," Zhang said.
Ma Zhiying, an engineer with the Shanghai Food Safety Research
Institute agreed. "We don't have the provisions in the current food
safety law to test for many of the problematic additives found in
recent food products," Ma told the Xinhua News Agency. "On the
other hand the lack of sufficient testing technology means we
cannot promptly uncover the problems either."
For example, in the turbot case, Shandong does have an aquatic
food quality-check center but it can't make several pesticide
residue tests as its Shanghai counterpart can, Ma said.
He also stressed the importance of tightening supervision at the
head of the food circulation chain. "Selected tests among markets
do find problems," Ma said. "However, that is the bottom of the
distribution chain where harm has already been done to a wide range
of customers. Moreover, it costs much more to check out after the
banned addictives or medicines have been used."
Strict quality standards should also be established to regulate
the safe application of fundamental production materials such as
seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, additives and medicines.
Zhang Yongjian, of the CASS, also blamed the ambiguous multiple
management system. He said "multi-monitoring" was one of the key
factors behind many of the food scandals in recent years and
"governments should streamline their co-ordination and improve
their working efficiency."
Five governmental agencies monitor the safety of agricultural
products and livestock. Provincial agriculture departments have
jurisdiction over farm operations; quality inspection departments
govern processing and packaging; industry and commerce departments
monitor the market and public health departments deal with food
consumption. The State Food and Drug Administration and its local
branches handle the co-ordination with other departments and
monitor the whole process.
"In many cases those government bodies are duplicated but
sometimes there are procedures that fall between the cracks," said
Nevertheless, Han Fanfan, an official with the Beijing Food
Safety Inspection Center said, "It's impossible to have only a
couple of departments supervising food safety in China according to
the country's complicated status quo."
Some successful methods in developed countries, such as the
United States, is to have one principle department to supervise one
certain kind of food production from field to table.
"However, as a huge agricultural country where 70 percent of
farmers are small production units supervision and management costs
of food safety are much higher than in some developed countries
with a large-scale machinery-based agricultural economy," Han said.
"It's also more difficult than in some small countries."
Furthermore, the economic environment in China had very special
characteristics as it's in a transitional period. "The most
important thing is the self-discipline of food production
enterprises under a rational food safety law," Han observed.
Wu Yongning, director of the Chemistry Lab of Food Nutrition and
Safety Institute under the China Center for Disease Control and
Prevention, urged the public not to panic.
"The increase in the incidents of poisoning food like this are
natural as the technology of food safety testing is becoming more
and more advanced," Wu told China Daily.
He said scares perpetuated by rogue manufacturers in the past
couple of years didn't point to a decline in mainland food quality.
"Food safety in China is actually making progress as more and more
Moreover, the expert said, food containing carcinogenic elements
is not equal to carcinogenic food. "Only when accumulated to a
certain amount can the element generate cancer," he said.
(China Daily November 28, 2006)