New rules likely to cover industrial plasticisers in food and drinks in China
Officials aim to set a tougher standard to govern the level of industrial plasticisers, or phthalates, found in food and beverages
Authorities are inspecting major food manufacturers on the mainland to prepare for a new standard to govern the level of industrial plasticisers in food and beverages in an attempt to restore public confidence.
Concerns over the toxic chemical were triggered after one of the nation's best-known liquor brands, Kweichow Moutai, was found to contain more industrial plasticisers, called phthalates, than a standard issued by the Ministry of Health in June last year. Online postings also alleged Jiugui Liquor, another top brand, contained three times more phthalates than the standard.
Used to make plastics soft, phthalates can cause hormonal and reproductive problems and damage immune and digestive systems if absorbed.
Su Zhi, director of the ministry's food safety and health supervision department, said authorities had inspected food manufacturers to determine the phthalate content of their products in the wake of a food-safety scandal last year involving excessive levels of plasticiser in sports drinks made in Taiwan.
Su said the aim of the inspection was to understand whether phthalates were added to foods on purpose, as well as to pave the way for a food quality requirement regulating phthalate levels.
"Other countries don't have this particular standard," Su said. "As far as we know, foreign countries and international organisations have not introduced such a requirement about the levels of phthalates in food."
He said inspecting food producers was complicated because of different production systems.
Professor Xu Yan, a biotechnology expert at Wuxi's Jiangnan University and a member of the experts committee for the China Alcoholic Drinks Association, said the current standard had been compiled without sufficient assessment. "We have proposed to the central authorities that they have a standard based on careful investigation," he said.
On Sunday, a Hong Kong man alleged on his blog that tests by a local laboratory showed that a bottle of Kweichow Moutai he bought in the city contained 3.3 milligrams of Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate per kilogram, double the current standard. Trading in the liquor company's shares was suspended on the Shanghai Stock Exchange on Monday.
Kweichow Moutai said yesterday that its products had passed tests in Beijing, Guiyang and Shanghai. It doubted that the product the man bought in Hong Kong was genuine.
Wang Li, the company's chief engineer, said it had replaced plastic pipes and other plastic equipment with stainless steel fittings last year.
Professor Wang Shiping , from China Agricultural University, said phthalate contamination of liquor stemmed from equipment used. "I am sure liquor factories don't put phthalates in deliberately because the chemical doesn't enhance a liquor's taste or colour," he said.