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China accused of covering up outbreak of maggots in oranges

Posted by Author on November 2, 2008

By Richard Spencer in Beijing, The Telegraph, UK, 31 Oct 2008-

Many mandarin orange trees have had their year’s fruition destroyed

The Chinese authorities, already battling a food safety scandal over melamine contamination of milk and eggs, have been accused of covering up an outbreak of maggots in oranges.

Tens of thousands of tons of mandarin oranges have had to be destroyed in recent weeks, state media have revealed in the past few days.

Yet persistent rumours of an infestation of fruit fly maggots, spread by text message, were denied or played down before the extent of the problem was confirmed.

The problem with oranges comes as rural regions report that chickens are being culled as egg sales fall in the wake of the latest melamine scandal.

Hong Kong complained that batches of eggs imported from a company based in the north of China were tainted with the chemical, and now it has been confirmed that widespread adulteration of animal feed may be to blame.

Thousands of babies are still in hospital being treated for poisoning by melamine that had been added to their milk in a major health scare which killed at least four children. Melamine is added to foodstuffs in bulk to improve readings of tests supposedly to gauge protein levels, but can cause kidney stones.

Health inspectors in Shanghai are now also testing to see if the problem has spread to farmed fish.

According to state media, a farm in Sichuan, in the south-west of the country, first reported its crop of mandarin oranges had failed on September 21, and fruit fly was diagnosed.

But though surveys found orchards across major mandarin-producing counties of Sichuan had been affected, the provincial authorities did not publicly confirm the outbreak until after a local newspaper had broken the story on October 4.

Even since then, the authorities had tried to insist that the contamination was local, even though by that time infected oranges were on sale across the country. The full extent of the problem, which has led to tens of thousands of oranges being destroyed, was only revealed at a press conference at the end of last week.

The government is still refusing to give full figures on losses, but one neighbouring province said it expected losses there alone to amount to 1.5 billion yuan (£135 million) from falling sales due to loss of confidence, even though it was not affected by the outbreak directly.

The Telegraph

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