The heads of animal husbandry bureaus in Henan counties where pig farmers mixed illegal substances in feed have been suspended from work following a television expose.
In a nationally televised show to mark World Consumer Rights Day on Tuesday, pig farmers in counties including Mengzhou, Qinyang and Jiyuan were shown mixing banned clenbuterol hydrochloride in feed to make pigs leaner. Inspectors in those counties were also filmed turning a blind eye to violations after taking bribes.
The show resurrected food-safety fears on the mainland, which is struggling to restore consumer confidence following the melamine-tainted milk scandal three years ago that poisoned at least 300,000 children.
Despite repeated tightening of food safety laws and crackdowns by the authorities, media reports about tainted food remain common.
Some of the clenbuterol-tainted pigs filmed by the China Central Television programme were sent to the Jiyuan subsidiary of national processed-meat giant Shuanghui, whose products are sold all over China, including in Hong Kong.
Du Kai, a manager in charge of exports at Shuanghui, confirmed that its products had been exported to Hong Kong and said it was not ordering a recall.
A spokesman for Hong Kong's Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said it had conducted tests for clenbuterol on 650 fresh and processed pork products and all had passed. He said it was liaising with the mainland authorities and would take appropriate action.
Clenbuterol is a chemical used to prevent pigs from accumulating fat. It is banned as an additive in pig feed on the mainland because it is poisonous to humans and can be fatal.
The Ministry of Agriculture sent a team to Henan on Tuesday to investigate the accusations in the TV programme. The Henan provincial government ordered 16 pig farms mentioned in the report to halt pig sales and destroy feedstuff suspected to contain the additive. More than 130 tonnes of processed meat and pigs suspected of being contaminated with clenbuterol hydrochloride had been taken out of the supply chain and some products taken off shelves, the China News Service reported.
Provincial investigation teams have gone to Mengzhou, Qinyang and Jiyuan to inspect the transportation of pigs, pork and processed meats.
Shuanghui - the mainland's biggest meat processor, based in Luohe, Henan - apologised to the public yesterday for its Jiyuan subsidiary's involvement in the scandal and suspended production there pending an inspection.
It had sent a deputy general manager to the company to impose corrective measures, a statement on the group's website said. It had also required all subsidiaries to strengthen management on purchases, production and sales to ensure product quality, it said.
The sale of shares in Shenzhen-listed Henan Shuanghui Investment and Development was suspended yesterday morning pending an investigation into the purchase of clenbuterol-tainted pigs by its Jiyuan branch.
The company's shares fell by the 10 per cent daily limit on Tuesday immediately after the broadcast.
Sixteen Henan pig farms have been ordered to stop sales
The amount of pigs and meat taken out of the supply chain, in tonnes, is: 130