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March 10, 2011

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Residents lured to dine on lethal balloon fish

NEIGHBORING provinces are enticing Shanghai residents to go and dine on a potentially lethal fish banned in the city.

Officials say that as balloon fish - also known as puffer fish - is not legally sold in Shanghai, many people go to Jiangsu and Zhejiang each spring to sample it.

Balloon fish is famous for its delicious taste and infamous for the lethal poison contained in its blood and internal organs. A Chinese saying warns: "You gamble your life eating balloon fish."

Yangzhong in Jiangsu Province has held a balloon fish festival for the past seven years and this year tourism officials have come to Shanghai to promote the event. The festival runs from March 19 to April 20. More than 300,000 people are expected to attend, half of whom are expected to be from Shanghai.

The Yangzhong Balloon Fish Association trains chefs every year. After the 30-day course, chefs are allowed to prepare the dish.

However, Shanghai Food and Drug Administration warned people that it's illegal to sell balloon fish.

"The country has just opened several balloon fish trial sites, but these are not permitted to do business with the general public," said Gu Zhenhua, director of the Shanghai FDA's food supervision department.

Despite this, balloon fish is still consumed in parts of the country.

Gu said Shanghai has no plans to lift the ban.

Meanwhile, Shanghai fish farming expert Yang Qingfa has invented a new way for raising non-toxic balloon fish. Yang said he found a type of balloon fish, named Anwen Dongfang, that does not produce poison by itself. Instead, its toxicity comes from its food and bacteria. By changing the food source, Yang rendered the fish harmless.


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