CHINA> National
Egg sales getting back to normal
By Cui Xiaohuo (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-11-03 06:44

The fall in egg prices slowed over the weekend, with people shedding their fear of melamine contamination and the government vowing to take all possible steps to ensure food safety.

Egg prices in 20 provinces fell by 0.5 percent to 7.62 yuan ($1.1) a kg on Saturday, Xinhua News Agency reported. They had slid by 10 percent after Oct 26, when Hong Kong food authorities first detected eggs supplied by a mainland company contained high levels of melamine.

Last week, four brands of eggs were found to contain excessive amounts of the industrial chemical, with experts blaming chicken feed as the source of the contamination.

But yesterday, more consumers returned to egg stalls after the government vowed to subject chicken feed producers to stricter checks and ensure the safety of food products supplied to domestic, as well as overseas markets.

In a supermarket in south Beijing's Daguanying, consumers were seen gathering around the egg stands, where official test results and newspaper clippings guaranteeing safe eggs had been put up.

"I still have some doubts, so I pick a different brand every time I buy eggs," Yang Shuyun, a doctor, said. "But I am buying eggs."

Egg sellers said the market was returning to normal, though prices were still low.

"Farmers had begun slaughtering their chickens, especially older ones, fearing a disaster similar to the bird flu outbreak. But they have stopped now," said Huang Hongwei, an egg vendor. Huang carries eggs from neighboring provinces to Dayanglu grocery in southeast Beijing.

Hu Yong, a 32-year-old grocery owner in Beijing's Panjiayuan area, said: "I sell them for about 6.6 yuan a kg."

He was loading six large cartons of eggs on his tricycle. "Some people are still staying away from eggs, but I can manage to sell all of these by evening," the Henan native said.

Govt renews pledge

Health Minister Chen Zhu said Sunday that stricter checks would be imposed on food products to ensure safety.

"China will strengthen its food risk assessment system to better ensure food safety. And it is willing to share the latest information with all the countries with which it has trade relations," Chen said in Beijing after meeting with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea.

Melamine is commonly used to make plates, mugs and other household utensils. It is used in the fertilizer industry, too.

The chemical first hit the headlines after it was found in baby milk food, and was blamed for the deaths of four infants. Contaminated milk food also left thousands of other babies with urinary ailments, including kidney stones.

But so far, no reports of anybody falling ill after eating contaminated eggs have been received, possibly because of the relatively low level of melamine found in the eggs.

Wang Jiaqi, a senior agricultural expert, said on Friday that with the levels of melamine found in eggs, an adult would have to eat more than 100 of them a day to fall ill.

Egg firm's officials held

Government officials detained a couple of senior staff of an egg company in Shanxi on Oct 27 for their possible link to the melamine scandal, the Ministry of Agriculture has said.

Shanxi-based Green Biotechnology Development Center closed down its plants in Changzhi in March, which used to supply Ciyunxiang-brand eggs. But, food safety officials of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, found the same brand being sold in a local market, and each kg of the eggs contained 3.5 mg of melamine, when the official limit is 2.5 mg.

Officials are investigating how the Ciyunxiang-brand eggs landed in Hangzhou in October when its supply had been stopped in March.