Many Chinese farmers continue to skirt the ban on chemical additives in food for pigs, increasing the risk of disease and illness in humans, according to a report from the nation's top legislature.
Weak links in the government's management of farming and safety standards have led to an increasing number of cases of people becoming sick from contaminated pork, according to the report released Tuesday from the National People's Congress Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
In February, more than 80 people in Guangdong province experienced stomachaches and diarrhea after consuming pig organs contaminated with an illegal feed additive called Clenbuterol.
One of the largest food poisoning cases involving Clenbuterol occurred in Shanghai in 2006 when 336 people were hospitalized after eating pig meat and organs contaminated with the additive.
"There is still illegal use of Clenbuterol and other banned chemicals," said Wang Yunlong, chairman of the NPC's Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.
The Ministry of Agriculture has launched a year-long crackdown on the supervision of the production, marketing and abuse of additives, but the NPC's report puts added pressure on the campaign to wipe out the practice.
This year, the ministry has exposed 8,677 cases of additive abuse, halted 124 enterprises without operating permits and cancelled 87 licensed enterprises in China, one of the leading consumers of pork in the world.
According to statistics in 2007 from the China Meat Association, pork accounts for about 65 percent of the meat consumed in China. Per capita consumption has doubled in 16 years, starting from 1990.
Clenbuterol, dubbed "shouroujing," is added to the pig feed to keep the animals lean. Leaner pork brings a higher price, especially as the market for pork in China has dropped precipitously.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture, the price of pork in July was down 28.3 percent since last July to 14.8 yuan per kilogram.
The additive is harmful to humans and can be fatal since it often accumulates in organs such as the liver and lungs.
The ministry yesterday declined to provide the latest statistics on how many cases of banned drugs or additives in pig farming have been exposed so far this year.
Li Lite, professor at the China Agricultural University, said money is at the root of the problem.
"In some places, the price of pork is lower than that of vegetables. To keep up with the cost, farmers seek any means, even illegal means," Li said.
Also, when the farmers' usage of the additive came to light in the past few years, "they were not held responsible," he said.
The use of banned chemicals is a crime, but the practice comes from "a lack of protection for the farmers' interests," he said.
The farmers may be buying the additives from fertilizer and feed providers, experts said.