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Cancer-causing Fish Slip Through Food Safety Supervision Net
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The sales ban on turbot in Beijing and other cities reflects loopholes in food safety monitoring, according to Lei Jilin, the man who introduced the flatfish to China, and other experts.

"There is no quality control before the fish enter the market, even though government departments are supposed to do that," said Lei, member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a researcher with the Yellow Sea Fishery Research Institute of Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences.

In fact, China has watchdogs for every step in fish farming, from the production of fish feed, the use of drugs, breeding, right through to sales, according to Lei. However, some local watchdogs are either doing their jobs poorly or not doing their jobs at all.

Taiyuan followed Beijing in introducing the ban on Monday, after Shanghai announced Friday it had detected carcinogens in the fish. Shanghai and cities in Zhejiang Province have started quality inspections.

The case is the latest in a series of food safety problems. Recent cases include parasite-infested snails in Beijing, steroid-tainted pork, and ducks and hens that were fed cancer-causing Sudan dye to make their yolks red.

Wang Yongqiang, deputy director of the Seawater Fishery Institute in Shandong, told Xinhua there are no strict market access rules for turbot so even fish containing carcinogens are not banned.

Shandong accounts for 80 percent of turbot production in China. The carcinogen-containing fish found in Shanghai were from the eastern province.

Wang said individuals were raising more turbots than enterprises and are more likely to use substandard drugs.

Due to their low resistance to disease, the fish, introduced by Lei Jilin from Europe in 1992, are sometimes fed large quantities of medicinal supplements, which leave harmful, cancer-causing residues in their flesh.

"Some individual farmers only care about the temporary profits and ignore the long-term sustainable development of the whole industry," Lei Jilin said.

Lei said turbot farming is a profitable business and there are now about 110,000 farmers in Shandong, only 14 years after the fish was introduced into China.

Lei was worried that the recent case might totally ruined the turbot farming industry. One kg turbot sold at more than 60 yuan (US$ 7.5) in Shanghai before carcinogens were found and now sell sluggishly at less than 10 yuan (US$ 1.25).

Meanwhile, restaurants in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou and other cities have stopped providing the once popular delicacy, according to media reports.

The State Food and Drug Administration has ordered local offices and authorities in coastal areas including Shandong, Jiangsu, Hebei, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Liaoning, and Tianjin to closely monitor the case.

An inspection team from the Ministry of Agriculture and the State Food and Drug Administration has investigated fish farms in Weihai, Shandong. However, details will not be released until the tests are completed.

(Xinhua News Agency November 22, 2006)

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