BEIJING, Feb 23, 2009 (AFP) - At least 70 people in China fell ill after eating pig organs contaminated with an illegal weight-loss drug, state press reported Monday, the latest scare for the nation's chaotic food industry.
All the people suffered from stomach pains and diarrhoea after eating the tainted pork in southern China's Guangdong province over the past few days, with three victims still in hospital, the China Daily said.
Investigations showed the suspect pork bought from local markets was contaminated with clenbuterol, a drug often given to people to treat asthma but also commonly used to cut body fat.
Cases of clenbuterol being given to pigs in China to reduce their fat have been recorded, but it is a banned food additive because it can be fatal for humans, the China Daily said.
One of the worst cases involving clenbuterol occurred in Shanghai in 2006 when 336 people were hospitalised after eating pig meat or organs contaminated with the additive, according to the paper.
Three people have been detained for raising and selling the contaminated pigs in the Guangdong case, the China Daily said, citing local authorities.
The reputation of China's poorly regulated and corruption-plagued food industry has taken repeated hits in recent years, with people dying from eating tainted products at home and contaminated exports being found overseas.
In the most recent major food safety scandal, six babies died of kidney problems and 300,000 others fell ill last year after being fed milk powder tainted with a chemical normally used to make plastics.
The chemical, melamine, was added into dairy products to give it the appearance of having a higher protein content. Twenty-two dairy firms were found to have sold the tainted milk.
The former head of China's State Food and Drug Administration, Zheng Xiaoyu, was executed in 2007 for taking bribes in exchange for product safety licences.