October 29, 2008


Melamine taints China's top egg producer


China's top egg producer Hanwei is the latest Chinese company to bear the melamine taint, as authorities once again scramble to check China's food products for the chemical. 


Hong Kong health authorities reported during the weekend that they had found excess levels of melamine in eggs produced by the Dalian-based Hanwei Group.


According to the company's website, Hanwei has 3 million layers in its farms, with annual egg production of 58 million kilogrammes.


Hanwei's eggs are sold in more than 100 Chinese cities and exported to Japan, Hong Kong and other South-East Asian countries. Analyst speculate the melamine tainted eggs could have come from its subcontractors instead of its own in-house farms.


The legal limit for melamine in foodstuffs in Hong Kong is 2.5 parts per million.


The Hong Kong-tested Hanwei eggs contained 4.7 ppm of melamine.


According to a newspaper in Wuhan, the company's HQ in Dalian has been deserted since Oct 25, the day Hong Kong authorities announced the tainted egg incident. Reporters later found a company spokesman at a subsidiary in the same city, who said the company's General Manager, Han Wei is looking into the matter.


The company's feed factories have also been deserted for the past few days, the newspaper quoted a security guard as saying.


While its eggs had been pulled from shelves in Hong Kong, in China, Hanwei's eggs are still selling. Hanwei's eggs in China and Hong Kong are marketed under two different brand names. 


US retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Tuesday it had pulled Hanwei's eggs from its shelves in China, emphasising that it was a precautionary measure and that products from Hanwei inside the country had not yet been found to be contaminated.


The government of Dalian, said in a notice dated Wednesday that it was first alerted to the problem of melamine-tainted eggs more than a month ago — but it did not explain the apparent delay in publicly reporting the problem.


The notice said that Dalian authorities were notified Sept. 27 of tests by the customs bureau of Liaoning province that had found melamine in a batch of export-bound eggs produced by Hanwei.


The city government said it immediately ordered Hanwei to recall the eggs and temporarily halt its egg exports. By Oct. 5, seven shipping containers that had reached Hong Kong carrying Hanwei's eggs had been recalled, while two other containers that stayed in Hong Kong were sealed off.


The discovery of the tainted eggs has led to mounting fears that melamine, which has been blamed for killing four babies and sickening 53,000, may have contaminated a larger share of China's food supply than previously thought.


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