June 30, 2008


Illicit feed additive use threatens China's food safety


China's health and food sanitation are threatened by unlawful practices by some farmers in the livestock and fishery industries, putting the health of millions at risk, according to the chief veterinarian at the country's Ministry of Agriculture.


Some farmers still use banned growth-enhancing drugs, food colouring and other chemicals while feed additives with high concentrations of metal pollute water and crops, Jia Youling said at a conference in Qingdao.


The government has prioritised food safety as China hosts the Beijing Olympic Games. Pet food, toothpaste, seafood and frozen dumplings have been recalled in the US, Japan and the EU after toxic chemicals were found in ingredients and raw materials.


Jia said cases of illegal drug use still exits as significant number of farmers use additives with heavy metals, which accumulate in animal faeces which pose a "serious risk of polluting soil and crops" as well as "endangering public health."


Increasing salaries have driven demand for meat, dairy and seafood production. Rapid expansion, intense competition and cases of inadequate quality control have increased the risk to food safety.


But China's livestock sector, said Jia, is still reared by small, low-tech farms, with only "crude facilities to manage waste and pollution". Filthy farms with immunised animals are susceptible to diseases such as the Blue Ear epidemic, seen over the past two years, he said.


The veterinarian emphasises that China is a "disaster area" for diseases that cross between humans and animals, with 60 million people in 12 provinces at the risk of the parasitic disease Schistosomiasis.


In 2005, an outbreak of Streptococcus suis in Sichuan province, the largest pork producer, caused nationwide hatred to pork, Jia said. The disease, which can cause meningitis, killed 38 people, according to the World Health Organization. Bird flu in 2004-05 led to 95 billion yuan ($13.8 billion) in damages, he said.


China has suffered 20 human fatalities from bird flu out of 30 confirmed cases, according to the WHO. The Hong Kong government banned live chicken imports from mainland China for three weeks from June 11 after the H5N1 avian influenza virus was discovered in four markets.


Transmission of diseases among fish and livestock also poses serious risks, with storms and flooding sparking outbreaks.


Snowstorms in February "devastated" some of the freshwater fish farms in southern China, Jia said.


Fish farmers may have been forced to use banned drugs, including the carcinogenic malachite green, because there are no other safe and effective drugs against some diseases, he said.

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