Fifteen people in China’s southern province of Guangzhou were arrested for selling pigs that had been fed banned drugs to make their meat leaner, Xinhua news agency reported March 19.
The pigs had been fed ractopamine, a drug that is used as a feed additive to promote leanness in pigs.
The feed additive Paylean, a form of ractopamine, is commonly used by pig farmers in the United States, so meat sold into China has to come from farms and breeders where the drug is not used.
The investigation was initiated after 70 cases of humans poisoned by the drug were reported in Guangzhou in the past month, officials from the People’s Procuratorate of Guangzhou City said.
Ractopamine is officially banned in China due to concerns over potential health risks to humans and difficulties in supervising its application by the country’s household breeding farmers.
“Many pig breeders have no idea of how much drugs should be used or for how long a period the pigs should be drug-free before being sold,” said Guo Huiyong, an analyst with Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant Co. Ltd.
Guo said small breeders either used too much of the drug or sell the pigs too early, while there is still drug residue in the pigs’ livers
or blood, both of which are delicacies for Chinese.
The 15, who were arrested in the suburbs of Guangzhou, would face charges involving the production and marketing of substandard, toxic and harmful food, which could lead to prison terms of up to five years, Xinhua said.
Chinese customs has on occasion halted shipments of pork imports because it contained traces of ractopamine.
One of the most serious cases of poisoning from ractopamine was in 2006, when more than 300 people became sick in Shanghai.
NO RACTOPAMINE: Taiwanese pig farmers throw rotten eggs as they demonstrate in front of the Department of Health in Taipei in 2007. Taiwan had banned
local use of ractopamine, known commercially as Paylean, while still allowing imports of U. S. pork from pigs treated with the same substance.