No let-up as food scandals mount

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 May, 2011, 12:00am

The list of mainland food scandals continues to grow, with Shenzhen reporters discovering an illegal workshop that made steamed buns using waste water, flour well past its expiry date and lashings of artificial colours and flavours.

The Southern Metropolis News reported yesterday that the workshop, which had operated for two years, used large amounts of swelling agent, oxidising agent and other additives to make the buns appealing.

The report said the workshop sold several thousand steamed buns a day because it only charged 1 yuan (HK$1.20) for three buns.

However, many people who ate the buns suffered from vomiting and diarrhoea. The newspaper said it had reported the case to the food safety watchdog, which had promised to take action on the workshop.

On Wednesday, mainland media reported another food scandal in Xinjiang - with bean sprouts found to contain high levels of potentially cancer-causing nitrite and urea.

A similar incident was reported in Shenyang, Liaoning, last month, with police seizing 55 tonnes of toxic bean sprouts in a crackdown on several small workshops.

Some bean sprouts sold at Beiyuanchun wet market in Urumqi, which did not look like normal bean sprouts, were being sold for about six yuan a kilogram, at least one yuan cheaper than normal-looking sprouts, the Urumqi Evening News reported.

A laboratory at the Xinjiang Agricultural University's school of food science and pharmaceutical science found samples of the cheaper sprouts contained 152 micrograms of urea and 9.2 micrograms of nitrite per kilogram. Laboratory director Pang Huanming said the urea level was about three times the national standard and the level of nitrite was about double this standard. Pang said farmers had used urea, hormones and other additives to spur growth, the newspaper reported.

A vendor at the market was quoted as saying that it normally took five to six days to grow bean sprouts but the use of various additives could shorten the time to three to four days.

The laboratory only tested for urea and nitrite, leaving open the question of whether other substances were also added.

'High levels of urea in human bodies adds to the burden on the kidneys and will possibly lead to ammonia intoxication,' Pang said. 'For nitrite, it will easily cause oesophageal cancer and stomach cancer.'

In the Shenyang scandal, police said they had identified urea, nitrite, enrofloxacin - an anti-bacterial medication for animals that is forbidden for human use - and N6-Benzylaminopurine, a plant growth hormone, in the bean sprouts they seized. A vendor bought the additives from factories in Zhejiang and Jiangsu and had sold to 200 clients in Liaoning, Jilin and Inner Mongolia over the past six years.

Hot number

The illegal Shenzhen plant sold thousands of steamed buns a day

They proved popular as the amount charged, in yuan, for three buns was only: 1 yuan