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August 17, 2011

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Banned chemical added to mutton

LEAN-MEAT powder, a type of banned food additive linked to cancer, is being used routinely in mutton by breeders in north China's Hebei Province and sold to markets in Shanghai as well as Henan and Jiangsu provinces, Shanghai authorities said yesterday.

Testing for the powder, chemically known as clenbuterol, is a blind spot in quality checks for mutton because local officials never thought it would be used on meat other than pork.

But it turns out that Hebei sheep have been fed the chemical in powder form to promote lean meat as a matter of course for years.

The chemical is known to cause cancer, heart disease and early puberty.

Sun Guozhong, a breeder in Hebei's Lulong County, said that almost every breeder has used clenbuterol for the past five years. The illegal drug used to be easily accessible in pharmacies and was directly mixed in sheep feeds, the Beijing News reported yesterday.

"Everybody else is using the drug. If you don't use them, your sheep could never sell," Sun told the newspaper.

Until recently, when officials came to the farm to carry out spot checks, breeders would be tipped off and stopped feeding the drug for several days in order to have clean test results, the report said.

Agents, who collected sheep from individual breeders for delivery to slaughterhouses, advised the breeders to stop feeding the drug five days before sheep were sent to slaughterhouses. They were told to give sheep glucose to help them excrete the toxic drug. Then the urine test to detect the drug would come up negative, Gu Xiaozeng, an agent, told the newspaper.

The Animal Husbandry Bureau of Changli County in Hebei completed inspections of sheep farms by August 1, according to a report issued by the bureau. They busted two breeders for illegal use of the banned drug after finding that 365 sheep were tainted.

Han Lirong, a local villager, was sentenced to five years behind bars and fined 70,000 yuan for manufacturing and selling poisonous food, the harshest punishment under the law.

Shanghai industrial and agricultural authorities admitted yesterday that they never tested clenbuterol on mutton.

"It's the first time that we learn clenbuterol is used on mutton," said Zhang Yusong, an official with the Shanghai Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureau. "And clenbuterol testing is not listed on the standard for mutton products."

Under Chinese law, the present tests on mutton include only heavy metal content, pesticide residue and total number of bacteria colonies.

But the bureau hasn't taken any action yet. Ye Shengzhou, an officer from the Shanghai Agricultural Commission, said mutton sold in local markets is mostly imported from other provinces such as Hebei and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, since local sheep farming accounts for only a small proportion of mutton supply, mainly from Chongming Island.

Checks on clenbuterol were tightened nationwide after tainted pork was exposed in central China's Henan Province by China Central Television in March. But the increased scrutiny came mostly on pork. It was discovered that all pig farms in Mengzhou City in Henan, one of China's biggest pig-breeding areas, used the lean meat essence.

Jiyuan Shuanghui Food Co Ltd, a Henan subsidiary of a leading pork processor, was slaughtering pigs fed the banned drug.


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