China suspends U.S. meat imports


BEIJING (AP) – China has suspended imports of chicken feet, pig ears and other animal products from seven U.S. companies, including the world’s largest meat processor, in an apparent attempt to turn the tables on American complaints about tainted products from China.

The American meat had contaminants including salmonella, feed additives and veterinary drugs, according to a list posted on the Web site of China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine late Friday.

The U.S. and other countries have cracked down on Chinese products since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found in April that North American dogs and cats were poisoned by tainted Chinese pet food ingredients. Since then, a growing number of Chinese products have been found to be tainted with potentially toxic chemicals and other adulterants.

In recent weeks, Chinese authorities have been prominently announcing their own rejections of imports, including U.S. orange pulp, dried apricots, raisins and health supplements – apparently to show that they are not the only ones with food safety problems.

The Chinese agency said frozen poultry from Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods Inc., the world’s largest meat processor, was contaminated with salmonella.

Frozen chicken feet from Laurel, Miss.-based Sanderson Farms Inc. were tainted with residue of an anti-parasite drug, and frozen pork ribs from Wichita, Kan.-based Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. contained the leanness-enhancing feed additive ractopamine, the agency said.

Frozen pig ears from Kansas City, Mo.-based Van Luin Foods USA, Inc. were found to contain ractopamine. Frozen chicken feet from Atlanta-based Intervision Foods was tainted with salmonella, and frozen pork from Atlanta’s AJC International, Inc. was tainted with ractopamine, the agency said.

Both stewed chicken feet and pig ears are popular dishes in China.

Sausage casing from a seventh company, listed by the Chinese agency as “Thumph Foods,” was also found to contain ractopamine, according to the Chinese agency. It was not clear whether it was referring to Triumph Foods of St. Joseph, Mo.

Mark Klein, a spokesman for Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc., disputed the Chinese inspectors’ findings that his company’s products were tainted and said Cargill hoped to resolve the issue by working with U.S. and Chinese officials.

“We’re proud of our products and our processes, and we’ll be delighted to talk about them with all concerned,” he said.

Cargill is the parent company of Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., which as of 2005 was the ninth leading pork producer in the U.S., according to the National Pork Producers Council.

Libby Lawson, a spokeswoman for Tyson Foods, said the company knew nothing about any tainted product.

“We’re disappointed with this news from China and are investigating these claims as this is the first we’ve heard of this development,” she said. “We have received no notice from the Chinese government about this matter. We will work with the U.S. and Chinese government to get this matter resolved.”

Officials with the other companies could not immediately be reached for comment.

Although China supplies most of its own meat, its imports of foreign meat are growing. A contagious disease has killed tens of thousands of pigs in China this year, and many farmers have stopped raising pigs because of worries they would lose money if the animals die. As a result, prices of pork – the country’s staple meat – have shot up 43 percent, a jump so serious that China’s Cabinet held an emergency session and Premier Wen Jiabao made public appearances to address concerns.

Cargill, Van Luin and “Thumph Foods” were given 45 days to correct the contamination problems, while the others were suspended from imports, though China did not say for how long.

It was also unclear whether the bans covered only the products in question, or all of the companies’ imports.

A duty officer reached by phone at the Chinese agency Saturday said he did not know details.

Beijing has taken steps in recent days to improve the image of its products. It executed the former head of its drug regulation agency for taking bribes, and banned toothpaste makers from using a chemical found in antifreeze.

Officials also have vowed to better integrate China’s fractured regulatory system, which splits responsibility among at least six agencies. Blurred lines between them often enable the country’s countless illegal operations to escape detection.

The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Li Yuanping, director of the Chinese agency’s import and export bureau, as saying China’s government has thoroughly investigated each case of substandard exports.

“All of them are exceptional cases,” he said in the Saturday report, adding that more than 99 percent of China’s exports meets standards. “China-made products should not be labeled as substandard just because of a few bad producers.”