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December 7, 2009

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Error admitted in arsenic warnings

A BUSINESS watchdog in south China admitted its action against two beverage manufacturers was beyond its authority after it mistakenly issuing a warning that the companies' products contained too much arsenic.

Huang Chengmo, director of Hainan Provincial Administration for Industry and Commerce, said the industry and commerce department of Haikou, the provincial capital, was not entitled to issue a warning against Nongfu Spring and Uni-President over the allegedly excessive arsenic in three types of vegetable and fruit juice.

"Only the Ministry of Health has the authority to issue the warning in that situation, as it could have been a major issue for food safety because the two enterprises are well-known manufacturers with countless customers nationwide," Huang said.

The Haikou bureau issued a statement last Tuesday night admitting that products of Nongfu Spring Co and Uni-President Co had been cleared of its earlier charges that they contained high levels of arsenic.

Wang Jianlu, deputy director of the Haikou bureau, said he had never seen such a situation in his 30-year career.

Zhong Shanshan, chairman of Nongfu Spring, said the company suspected deliberate sabotage and had called police.

Wang admitted that he signed an order to take "tainted products" off the shelves but denied issuing the warning, which was closely watched nationwide. "It was negligence," he said.

The Haikou bureau cited further testing performed by the Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine for its U-turn last Tuesday, and said it had notified retailers that the products should not be recalled after the final results by the national testing center were released.

The abrupt retraction came a week after the Haikou bureau said Nongfu Spring's 30 percent mixed vegetable and fruit juice and its C-100 grapefruit juice, as well as the peach beverage of Uni-President, contained excessive arsenic.

The results were based on a report from the Hainan Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau.

The Haikou bureau has not specified why the results came out so differently.


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