Crab smuggling crackdown amid poison fear

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2005, 12:00am

It's Mid-Autumn Festival: hairy crabs, wax burning - and warnings

Anti-smuggling measures were stepped up yesterday on hairy crabs on the eve of the Mid- Autumn Festival amid reports suggesting crabs from a famous mainland lake could be contaminated with arsenic.

Shenzhen authorities announced yesterday that all hairy crabs supplied to Hong Kong must be packed and sealed. Individual couriers also have been forbidden from bringing in the winter delicacy through the Lowu checkpoint.

This came as mainland customs seized about 1,140kg of smuggled crabs at Lowu on Thursday, Shenzhen Economics Daily reported yesterday.

The types of crabs seized included hairy crabs and soft-shelled crabs. They were found in 57 20kg boxes carried by more than 20 people at the Hong Kong and Macau departure channel. The newspaper said the smuggled crabs were not labelled and had no inspection certificates. It was not known where they originated.

Food inspectors began testing mainland hairy crabs in Hong Kong earlier this month after a Taiwanese report that a crab sample on the island contained an antibiotic, chloramphenicol, that can cause liver damage.

A Food and Environmental Hygiene Department spokeswoman said results would be announced as soon as they were available.

The department also said the level of arsenic found in samples of hairy crabs from Tai Lake did not exceed the allowed maximum of 10 parts per million.

The vice-mayor of Wijiang Municipal People's Government, Shen Jinming, said yesterday it was difficult to know if the crabs tested by the newspaper came from Tai Lake. He said mature hairy crabs sold in Hong Kong markets could not have come from Tai Lake because those crabs still needed 'perhaps until the end of the month' before they were ready for market.

But he admitted a quantity of hairy crabs was exported to meet the demand for Monday's festivities.

Mature crabs weigh from 175 to 250 grams and fetch top prices from discerning crab lovers.

Last week a similar warning about hairy crab imposters swamping the market was voiced by the association specialising in Yangcheng Lake's hairy crabs - a must-have delicacy for connoisseurs during autumn.

Mr Shen said steps had been taking to ensure the safety of hairy crabs from Tai Lake. The crabs are identified by numeric codes and labelled by five recommended brands and can only be ordered through four agents, he said.

Tai Lake produces 2,500 tonnes of hairy crabs a year, with up to 40 per cent going to Hong Kong. They are as famous as those from Yangcheng Lake.