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China bans lye, boric acid as food additives

/ Source: The Associated Press

Substances commonly used as industrial dyes, insecticides and drain cleaners were included on a list of illegal food additives China released Monday as part of a monthslong government crackdown aimed at improving the country's shoddy food safety record.

Among the 17 banned substances was boric acid, commonly used as an insecticide, which is mixed with noodles and meatballs to increase elasticity, a statement posted on the Ministry of Health Web site said. Also forbidden was industrial formaldehyde and lye, used in making soap and drain cleaner and added to water used to soak some types of dried seafood to make the products appear fresher and bigger.

A scandal over melamine-tainted infant formula, which likely killed six babies and sickened 294,000 others earlier this year, prompted the government food safety campaign last week.

The list of banned substances was released by a government committee tasked with weeding out the practice of augmenting food products with nonfood additives. Local authorities were also warned to watch out for another 10 food additives that are often used excessively.

"This list provides clues for relevant departments as they carry out this campaign," said the statement, adding that the list was not comprehensive.

The government had previously banned some of the 17 substances as separate scandals rocked the country and raised concerns over products such as milk and eggs, but the list released Monday appeared to mark the first attempt at compiling the information.

Also on the list were various industrial dyes that are added to improve the appearance of food products, ranging from chili powder to tea to cooked meats.

The government working group even listed an addictive substance made from the poppy plant and related to opium, which can be used as a painkiller. It is often used in hot pot, a Chinese dish where meat, vegetables and tofu are cooked at the table.

Along with the banned additives, the government named 10 substances such as colorings, preservatives and artificial flavorings that should not be used excessively.

The list will help local inspectors target food products more likely to be problematic. The investigation will focus on goods made by small food factories, which are often poorly regulated, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Among China's 500,000 food processors, 70 percent have fewer than 10 employees, Xinhua said.

Cancer-causing dye was used to color eggs

Previously banned items on the list were Sudan red, a cancer-causing industrial dye used to color egg yolks, and melamine, an industrial chemical used in plastics that is added to watered-down milk to fool protein tests measuring nitrogen content.

China is also looking into the practice of adding melamine to animal feed after finding eggs spiked with the chemical in October, the state-run China Daily said Monday. China's National Feed Office found 27 cases of contamination among 22,700 samples and forwarded the problematic batches to police, the paper said.

China first banned the use of melamine in animal feed in June 2007, after wheat gluten used in pet food was found to contain excessive melamine. The ingredient was blamed for killing dogs and cats in North America.