Another Food Safety Scare in China as Sheep Were Reportedly Fed Banned Chemical
   2011-10-27 23:48:19    Xinhua      Web Editor: Zhangjin

Agricultural authorities in east China said Thursday they had begun testing sheep after media reports claimed the livestock had been fed an illegal additive meant to make their meat leaner.

The latest food safety scare flared up after media reports on Wednesday alleged that clenbuterol, commonly known as "lean meat powder" in China, was detected in live sheep in Lijin county, a major sheep meat production base in Shandong province.

The harmful substance, originally used as an asthma medication, has been under the spotlight since March when the country's largest meat processor, Shuanghui Group, was found to be purchasing pigs that had been fed with the fat-burner.

Lijin has sent six inspection teams of over 100 people to test every sheep in the county, Han Xuewen, deputy director of the county's animal husbandry bureau, on Thursday

The tests were ordered by the Ministry of Agriculture in response to Wednesday's media reports.

The ministry also sent experts to supervise the inspection.

The reports focused on the town of Yanwo, where 90 percent of the county's 260,000 sheep are raised.

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, no sheep had tested positive for the substance, county authorities said.

Lijin had also launched inspections in April, and found that four farmers in Yanwo had fed clenbuterol to their sheep. The farmers were each fined 20,000 yuan (3,100 U.S. dollars).

So far this year, Lijin has destroyed 5.5 tonnes of meat products suspected to have been tainted with the chemical, said Liu Qingbin, deputy head of the county government.

Liu vowed to severely punish those involved with dealing or feeding sheep the banned substance. He also promised to step up the battle on the use of the chemical on livestock by tightening inspections and upgrading testing equipment.

Clenbuterol helps to build muscle and is frequently used as an illegal performance-enhancing drug by track and field athletes. China has banned it as a livestock feed additive as it can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches and heart palpitations in humans.

Food safety and public authorities have stepped up their efforts to crack down on the illegal use of the chemical this year, following a string of cases in which farmers were found to be illegally using the drug as an additive in pig feed.

The Ministry of Public Security said in late August that a total of 989 people involved in the manufacture and sale of clenbuterol had been arrested in a nationwide crackdown since the Shuanghui case in March.

To counter safety risks, China in September banned the production, sale and use of clenbuterol tablets and ordered existing tablets to be destroyed under government supervision, according to the State Food and Drug Administration.

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