03/17/2011, 00.00
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Animal husbandry officials suspended in Henan after “poisonous” pig meat found

A TV station shows feed given to pigs contains clenbuterol hydrochloride, a substance that makes for leaner pigs but is poisonous to humans. Inspections are ordered as China’s leading meat processing company, Shuanghui, is caught up in the case.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The heads of animal husbandry bureaus in Henan counties have been suspended from work following a television exposé by China Central Television (CCTV) on Tuesday, showing pig farmers mixing illegal substances in feed.

In a nationally televised report, pig farmers in counties including Mengzhou, Qinyang and Jiyuan were shown mixing clenbuterol hydrochloride, a substance toxic to humans, in feed to make pigs leaner. Inspectors were also shown ignoring violations after taking bribes.

Pigs raised this way build up faster and so can be slaughtered sooner. Because the meat is leaner, pigs fetch higher prices. However, the substance in question has been banned because it is poisonous, causes high blood pressure and heart disease and consumed in large quantities can lead to cancer.

Normally, pigs must receive three quarantine certificates and wear ear tags before they leave farms for the slaughterhouse. However, the CCTV report shows that it costs just 200 yuan (US$ 30) to buy all the certificates through an intermediary at an animal quarantine station.

The Agriculture Ministry sent a team to Henan on Tuesday to investigate the accusations. The Henan provincial government ordered the 16 pig farms mentioned in the report to halt pig sales and destroy feedstuff suspected to contain the additive. More than 130 tonnes of processed meat and pigs suspected of being contaminated were taken out of the supply chain.

The impact of the scandal has been magnified by the fact that the TV report showed how widespread the practice is, involving farmers that supply the Shuanghui Investment and Development Co, one of China’s leading meat processing companies with products sold all over the country. The company, which is based in Luohe (Henan), apologised to the public yesterday and suspended production in those subsidiaries affected by the scandal.

More generally, the affair resurrected food-safety concerns sparked in 2008 by revelations concerning melamine-tainted baby milk formulas, which killed six children and poisoned at least an additional 300,000.

Then as now, food companies were the main culprits. A number of company officials directly involved in the affair received exemplary punishment, but the families of the affected children were never adequately compensated.

Despite tighter food controls, the government is still unable to stamp out violations, which involve national brands.

Experts note that it would be better for the authorities to allow private individuals file claims and demand compensations rather than arrest protesters.

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