BEIJING - Recent investigations have found that some bleaching agents widely used in flour production contain as much as 30 percent pulverized lime, a substance that has been linked to health problems.
The result was reported on Wednesday in the Legal Weekend, a publication under the official Legal Daily.
Local insiders, who were worried the material would cause serious harm to public health, reported that pulverized lime is added to the bleaching agent produced by the Yuzhong Food Additive Company in Rugao in East China's Jiangsu province, the report said.
Reporters then collected samples by visiting the company. Follow-up tests confirmed that some 30 percent of pulverized lime is used in the bleaching agent, the report said.
"Before the Spring Festival this year, the company purchased four trucks' worth of pulverized lime, with each truck carrying 40 tons. An average of 1 jin (0.5 kg) of pulverized lime was added to every 4 jin of the bleaching agent," a local insider was quoted as saying.
The normal price of bleaching agent is 11,000 yuan ($1,611) per ton, but the one from the Yuzhong company was only sold at only 9,000 yuan per ton.
Such news did not surprise some people within the industry. "Their low prices resulted from adding pulverized lime," a salesperson from another bleaching agent company in Henan said upon learning about the other company's lower price.
Most of the country's bleaching agent companies are located in Henan. The Yuzhong company owner, surnamed Chen, said the bleaching agent was mainly sold to big-scale flour manufacturers in Shandong, Jiangsu and Anhui provinces.
A search for the company's official website returned no results. However, a page of the www.jsinvest.com site (Jiangsu Investment) listed some information about the company, which was registered in February 2001 with an owner named as Chen Guogui. Calls made to the listed phone number were unanswered on Wednesday.
The bleaching agent used in flour production is usually a blend of benzoyl peroxide (BPO) and corn flour. Replacing corn flour with pulverized lime brings down the cost, since the inedible compound is not only cheaper than its edible counterpart, but also weighs more.
No regulations were found to forbid the use of bleaching agent in flour production in the country. Notes on BPO were included in the current national standards on food additives, but no records regarding the use of pulverized lime were found.
Experts said the use of pulverized lime as a flour bleaching agent is "definitely forbidden".
"Manufacturers are never allowed to add pulverized lime into the bleaching agent, not even a little bit," said Wang Ruiyuan, vice-president of the Chinese Cereals and Oils Association.
Chen Junshi, a leading researcher with the national food safety and risk assessment committee, also said that adding the compound is illegal.
"I don't think it's a hidden rule in the industry," he said, adding problems caused by unregulated use of additives in food production is unavoidable in the current developmental stage of the society.
"Only when the number of peasant households in the country is reduced, say from the current 200 million to 2 million, could we possibly solve the food-safety problem at the source," he said.