GUANGZHOU - The State Council called for stricter regulation of the use of food additives on Thursday in response to a series of food safety problems, one of which led to the recent seizure of 16 tons of contaminated pork in Guangdong province.
The announcement required the Ministry of Health to revise a list of legal food additives and make it public by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, the ministry will make a blacklist of illegal additives. Persons or companies must not use such additives in their products, or they will face criminal charges or closure, the announcement said.
Factories in the countryside and suburban districts and those doing dairy and livestock businesses, as well as small vendors, are the chief targets for inspection, according to the announcement.
This is believed to be the latest measure by the government to ensure food safety in the country and restore the public's trust after frequent discoveries of illegal additives.
On Wednesday, sources with the Guangdong provincial procuratorate revealed that 16 tons of pork tainted with toxic chemicals have been seized in the province.
The pork was found to be tainted with "colorings" made of sodium borate, bean flour and other additives. Authorities said they believe the chemicals were used to make the meat look like beef, which sells at a higher price.
Sodium borate, a white powder consisting of soft colorless crystals that dissolves easily in water, is widely used in producing detergents, cosmetics and enamel glazes and to make buffer solutions in biochemistry.
But health authorities have banned it as a food additive, noting that 5 grams of sodium borate can kill a child.
Prosecutors said a self-employed boss surnamed Tan has been detained in the case. He is suspected of producing and selling the tainted pork, which is worth 234,000 yuan ($35,900), from January to July last year in the Nanhai district of Foshan, Guangdong province.
Tan is accused of buying pork at a cost of 12 yuan a kilogram and selling it wholesale as "beef" for the same price. Between the purchase and the sale, the meat's weight would increase greatly - an effect of the "colorings", according to prosecutors.
Quality inspectors found that every kg of the tainted "beef" contained 3.8 gram of sodium borate.
Such cases are not rare in China.
In Northeast China's Liaoning province, authorities in Shenyang found bean sprouts tainted with illegal food additives, which were used to make the vegetables grow faster and look shinier, the Legal Daily reported.
The report said police in Shenyang had seized 40 tons of bean sprouts treated with the chemicals sodium nitrite and urea, as well as antibiotics and a plant hormone called 6-benzyladenine.
The confiscated plants constituted nearly a third of all the bean sprouts found in markets in the city, it said.
Police have arrested 12 people in connection with the seizure.
As for the chemicals found on the beans, sodium nitrite hinders bacteria growth in food but can be toxic to humans and is a known carcinogen. The plant hormone used is also banned as a food additive, the report said.
A third recent case occurred in early April, when the Henan-based Jiyuan Shuanghui Food Co Ltd was accused of purchasing pigs fed with clenbuterol, an illegal additive. The banned supplement, which is often used to produce learner meat, can cause heart palpitations and dizziness in human beings.