Live fish out of water in Beijing supermarkets as tanks emptied ahead of food safety crackdown

Watchdog will inspect aquatic products in major cities before December 10

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 3:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 November, 2016, 12:00am

Supermarkets in Beijing have stopped selling live fish for fear of being caught in a government crackdown on food safety.

Many supermarkets emptied their fish tanks after receiving tips that the food safety watchdog would soon conduct random checks for chemical contamination of aquatic products, Caixin magazine reported online, citing unnamed sources at the China Food and Drug Administration.

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The administration confirmed yesterday that it would inspect aquatic products at wholesale markets, supermarkets and ­restaurants in 12 cities including Beijing before December 10.

China’s notorious food quality has made merchants fear that fish sold in their stores would not pass the checks, leaving them liable to penalties such as hefty fines.

“Store operators are worried, so they decided to remove their stocks of live fish,” an anonymous source at the Food and Drug ­Administration told Caixin.

The Beijing Food and Drug Administration, when announcing its third-quarter inspections of food safety earlier this month, said some supermarkets were found to have high levels of anti­biotics or cancer-causing ­compounds in freshwater fish.

However, the Beijing administration denied Caixin’s supposed leak in a statement issued yesterday afternoon, saying more than 1,000 aquatic products had been tested with the cooperation of vendors. It said more than 96 per cent of the products passed the tests.

Consumers in Beijing, however, have been frustrated by the sudden and unexplained emptying of fish tanks at major supermarkets in the capital.

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A fish vendor at a local Jing­kelong supermarket said the tanks were being sterilised and no freshwater fish would be sold for at least a week.

Live fish continued to be sold at the city’s wet markets, where vendors said they had received no notice of inspections.

But a store clerk at a Walmart store in central Beijing said freshwater fish sourced from around the capital had been pulled due to “problematic feed”. Instead, the store was offering fish from ­Zhejiang province that had passed inspection.

“The fish stall was closed for several days while the fish were being tested. Our fish are clean. But don’t think for a minute that freshwater fish in the wet markets are safe,” the Walmart vendor warned.

Residents in recent days have complained that carp, perch and other popular freshwater species are not available at some stores in the city.

The fish shortage has only fed speculation that rivers and lakes around Beijing are contaminated.

However, the Beijing Food and Drug Administration dismissed the claims in a Weibo post on Wednesday, saying the stores had switched from live fish to more profitable frozen products.

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Carrefour, Wumart and the Shanghai-listed Yonghui Superstores were among those that had stopped selling live fish, the ­Beijing News reported. The ­reasons they gave to consumers ranged from fish tank maintenance to insufficient supplies.