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Ministry reassures public about fish
By Liu Weifeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-07-13 05:59

People ordering fish in their favourite restaurants in two provinces need not worry about any health risk after a toxic chemical was found in a Zhengzhou market, a Ministry of Agriculture official said yesterday.

Today the fishery bureau under the ministry will issue a statement regarding the detection of Malachite green on the bodies of some fish in the Liulin Aquatic Products Market in the Henan provincial capital, local media reported.

Malachite green is an illegal preservative for seafood.

The fish were later proven to be transported from Hubei Province. An emergency notice issued by the ministry on Thursday said that some of the affected seafood was exported to the Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin areas.

But Ma Weijun, fishery bureau official, said there was "no need to worry about this."

"Not every consignment of the products contains the chemical as we know only a small proportion of the fish have been contaminated," Ma said.

Even so, the export of the fish sparked joint efforts by Beijing's Food Safety Office, Quarantine and Quality Supervision Bureau, Industrial and Commerce Administration and related fishery authorities.

Beijing authorities said they will establish a method for quarantining and testing for Malachite green in two weeks. The city's food safety office said that because Malachite green is not something a laboratory usually tests for, there is no corresponding reagent for it.

Fishermen long considered it an economical and effective preservative in preventing aquatic products from going mouldy during long-distance shipment.

But it later was found to be highly toxic as well as carcinogenic to people. In 2002, the Ministry of Agriculture banned its further use on aquatic products.

Ma said what really concerns him is how to find a possible solution in tackling the chemical's distribution problem.

"Supposedly, only those carrying industrial-purpose production business licences can get permission to buy the chemical," Ma said. "The fishery market flow of the chemical could be cut from the origin."

He attributed the easy flow of Malachite green on seafood to loose market supervision and a lack of punitive measures.

"A business licence is not compulsory to join the fishing industry, which adds to our administrative difficulty," Ma said.

Furthermore, the current penalty for using Malachite green, even when someone was caught using it, was a small fine or even just a warning.

For fishermen, Malachite green was the cheapest and most effective method to keep seafood fresh.

(China Daily 07/13/2005 page3)

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