China Releases List of Illegal Food AdditivesDec 16, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP In response to the international outcry resulting from the ongoing China melamine scandal, officials in that country have released a list of illegal food additives. According to the Associated Press (AP), 17 substances used as industrial dyes, insecticides, and drain cleaners were included on the list, which was developed as part of a government initiative.
Boric acid was one of the chemicals included in the list, the AP said. Boric acid is used as an insecticide, but is also mixed with noodles and meatballs to increase elasticity, according to a statement posted on China's Ministry of Health Website. Industrial formaldehyde and lye were also on the list. Those chemicals - used in the manufacture of soap and drain cleaner—are also commonly added to water to soak some dried seafood, which gives the food a fresher, larger appearance, said the AP.
The recent move by the Chinese government followed the widely publicized melamine scandal in which nearly 300,000 infants were sickened and at least six babies died, noted the AP, which added that the banned substance list was released in an effort to reverse the trend of adding nonfood products to food. In addition to the 17, the AP reported that local authorities were warned about an additional 10 food additives—colorings, preservatives, and artificial flavorings—which are “often used excessively.”
The AP quoted the statement as indicating that while the list is not complete, it “provides clues for relevant departments as they carry out this campaign." Some of the items on the list had been previously banned, the AP pointed out, stating that a variety of industrial dyes were also included which are often used to improve the appearance of items such as chili powder, tea, and meat.
Flex News reported that foods such as cookies, meats, and wheat flour are among those products authorities are to look at for potentially harmful food colorings and preservatives, noting that many of the suspect substances in the additional list are actually industrial-grade dyes; the Chinese government has warned these should not be used excessively. According to Flex News, the Ministry of Health statement said: “This list provides clues for relevant departments as they carry out this campaign.”
A substance derived from the poppy plant and linked to opium was also listed, said the AP, which reported that the additive is addictive, can be used as a painkiller, and can also be found in the popular Chinese Hot Pot dish. Also, Sudan red, a cancer-causing industrial dye used to color egg yolks and melamine, the nitrogen rich industrial toxin used to increase protein levels in food—most recently detected in animal feed—were also on the list and were also previously banned. China banned melamine use in animal feed last June, said the AP, following the deaths of hundreds and illnesses of thousands of North American pets linked to excessive levels in pet food. It was discovered that gluten used in the pet food was tainted with melamine.
The AP pointed out that the Chinese investigation will be paying particular attention to products manufactured by “small food factories,” said the official Xinhua News Agency. The smaller manufacturers are not as strictly regulated, said the AP, and Xinhua notes that only about one-third of China’s 500,000 food processing companies have more than 10 staff, said Flex News.