17-year-old rice hit market as new in China

Updated: 2006-11-16 16:16

A northeast China food processor polished up and sold tonnes of rice, some of it 17 years old that could be harmful if eaten, Chinese state media reported in the latest in a wave of scandals over tainted and counterfeit foods.

State-run China Central Television accused Wanshunhua Feed Co. Ltd. in Changchun of processing and selling 28,000 tonnes of husked rice this year for human consumption when it was fit only for animals.

Most of the rice was put in storage before 2000 and some as far back as 1989, the network's online edition (www.cctv.com) and the Beijing Morning News said on Thursday, adding that consumption was hazardous to human health.

Changchun is the capital of northeastern Jilin province.

The case follows reports of a similar scandal in Beijing, which was denied by the city mayor, and other scandals linked to fake or faulty foodstuffs.

Counterfeit milkpowder -- appearing genuine but lacking almost all nutrients -- was linked to the deaths of at least 13 babies in 2004 in the eastern province of Anhui.

Several years ago, authorities cracked down after discovering rice in eastern China that had been polished with industrial oil to make it more attractive.

Even the mid-autumn festival treat mooncakes came under scrutiny after firms were found to be using the sweet but stale fillings from year-old cakes, rewrapping it in new dough and passing them off as new.

In the latest scandal involving the staple food for many of the country's 1.3 billion people, the Wanshunhua Feed Co. Ltd. bought the rice on September 21 for 900 yuan ($110) per tonne and sold it for double the price, the Beijing Morning Post said.

The sale violated government regulations that require companies bidding for expired rice to use it themselves and only for manufacturing feed, the media said.

Changchun's commercial and industrial administration and the city government spokesman's office declined to comment. The company could not be reached.

Hong Kong media have said a Beijing vice mayor was under investigation for approving the sale of expired rice -- dubbed "poisonous rice" -- as edible rice.

In September, Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan dismissed as nonsense reports that the Chinese capital had been targeted by a massive corruption investigation.

As part of government efforts to boost transparency and accountability, President Hu Jintao sacked the Beijing mayor and the health minister for initially trying to cover up an outbreak of the deadly SARS virus in 2003.

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