BEIJING Chinese eggs tainted with an industrial chemical were an isolated case, the Agriculture Minister was quoted saying the day after officials were ordered to crack the "dark" networks selling contaminated animal feed.
China is battling to restore faith in its food and the regulators who are supposed to check it after milk powder laced with melamine killed four babies and made tens of thousands more so sick they needed hospital treatment.
The government rushed to tighten checks on milk and add melamine -- used legally in making plastics and illegally to cheat nutrition tests -- to a list of controlled ingredients.
But as the milk scandal began to abate, Hong Kong said it had found melamine in eggs, apparently because chickens were given tainted feed.
At least one industry expert has claimed fake feed is an established trade in parts of the country's rural heartlands, and the Agriculture Ministry itself said recent checks on 22,700 batches of animal feed found melamine in 2.4 percent.
In a country as vast as China, which consumes billions of animals a year, if 2 percent of feed is tainted nationwide it could translate into significant amounts of contaminated food.
But Agriculture Minister Sun Zhengcai told the official Xinhua agency that the eggs were just an isolated case.
"The tainted eggs were found in some batches of egg products made by certain manufacturers," Sun told the agency during a tour of egg producers in a province neighboring Beijing.
The quality of China's animal feed had been improving in recent years, although there were still illegal outfits "adding hazardous chemicals and drugs into their products," he said.
The agency also quoted unnamed "industry experts" saying most of the country's eggs were of good quality and safe.
(Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Nick Macfie)