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China Dismisses Banana Virus Rumor
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China's Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) on Thursday dismissed a rumour that bananas grown in its southern island province of Hainan contain a virus similar to that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

The ministry said recently some people received mobile phone text messages saying a SARS-like virus had been found in bananas from Hainan and asking the receiver to tell anyone he cares about.

"It is utterly a rumour. There has not been a case in the world in which humans have contracted a plant virus, and there is not any scientific evidence," said Zhang Xingwang, deputy director of the ministry's market department.

Li Huaifang, a professor at the China Agricultural University, said no scientists have found even one virus that humans can contract from plants.

The rumour has resulted a drop in banana prices from Hainan causing losses of as much as 20 million yuan (US$2.6 million) per day, Zhang Xiyan, secretary general of the Hainan Bananas Association.

The output of bananas in the island province accounts for one sixth of the country's total, according to the ministry.

The local industry leader said sales in other bananas growing regions in southern China have also been affected.

"Those spreading the false information either have inadequate scientific knowledge, or ulterior motives," he said, adding the case has been reported to the local police.

Bananas planters suffered heavy economic losses earlier this year following a rumor which said bananas that have contracted Banana Wilt could cause cancer in humans.

SARS has symptoms like those of flu. It killed more than 900 people around the world during an outbreak in 2003.

(Xinhua News Agency May 25, 2007)

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