China melamine scandal prompts mass chicken cull

BEIJING Fri Oct 31, 2008 7:15am EDT

Eggs from mainland China are seen at a wholesale market in Hong Kong October 27, 2008. Chinese farmers, hurt by a spreading melamine scandal, slaughtered tens of thousands of chickens, state media said on Friday, as authorities in Shanghai began checks on feed producers for local fisheries. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Eggs from mainland China are seen at a wholesale market in Hong Kong October 27, 2008. Chinese farmers, hurt by a spreading melamine scandal, slaughtered tens of thousands of chickens, state media said on Friday, as authorities in Shanghai began checks on feed producers for local fisheries.

Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese farmers, hurt by a spreading melamine scandal, slaughtered tens of thousands of chickens, state media said on Friday, as authorities in Shanghai began checks on feed producers for local fisheries.

Shanghai's Livestock Office would check more than 100 feed producers in the city, and promised tests for the city's seafood products if any feed were found to contain melamine, the Shanghai Daily newspaper said on Friday.

Melamine is a compound used in making plastic chairs and other things, but is often added to food to cheat nutrition tests.

At least four children died and tens of thousands were made ill from drinking milk formula adulterated with melamine this year.

The melamine scandal has since spread to other dairy products, sweets and chocolate, prompting recalls of Chinese-made food around the world.

A rash of cases involving melamine-tainted eggs exported to Hong Kong and South Korea, and sold in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, have aroused fears of how prevalent the compound is in Chinese animal feed.

Melamine was banned in feed last year in the wake of a pet food scandal that was blamed for the deaths of dogs and cats in the United States last year, but has since been found in chicken feed used by major egg producers in northern China.

Public fears about food safety have seen egg prices plummet in local markets, and wholesalers refuse stock not carrying melamine inspection certificates.

Plunging demand in Beijing had prompted dozens of farmers in Baoding to slaughter tens of thousands of chickens in recent days, the Beijing Youth Daily said.

Amid the growing scandals, China's health ministry has urged officials to quickly fix the country's problem-ridden food safety system.

DISJOINTED

The World Health Organisation's food safety chief, Jorgen Schlundt, last week called China's food-safety system "disjointed" and said poor communications between ministries and agencies may have prolonged the outbreak of melamine poisoning.

"Coordinate and cooperate to investigate and punish major incidents," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Health Minister Chen Zhu as saying.

Some 2,390 children remain in hospital after suffering kidney stones and other complications from drinking melamine-tainted milk formula, the ministry reported on Wednesday.

At the peak in late September, up to 22,000 infants were in hospital on any one day after being found sick from melamine. ,

The overseas edition of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party, said the scare had exposed long-standing failings in food-safety regulation.

"The right to safe food and appropriate nutrition is every citizen's right, but one after another food-safety incident is challenging this right," it said in a commentary.

"For this reason, food safety has become a national topic."

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley)

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