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Vinegar tainted with antifreeze is suspected of killing 11 people and sickening 120 after a communal Ramadan meal in China’s far western region of Xinjiang on August 21. Investigators suspect the victims consumed vinegar that was put in two plastic barrels which had previously been used to store toxic antifreeze, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
According to official Chinese media the mass food poisoning occurred on a Saturday night in a village close to Hotan City in Xinjiang, a border region that abuts Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. The victims were ethnic Muslims sharing an evening meal after the daily fast observed during the holy month of Ramadan.
Xinhua said children as young as 6 were among the dead. One person among the 120 sickened was in critical condition. Authorities were still testing to confirm the source of the poisoning, it said. China’s food safety record has been battered by the rampant use of illegal or substandard additives by unscrupulous food producers.
Milk powder laced with the industrial chemical melamine killed at least six children and sickened 300.000 in 2008. Producers added the nitrogen-rich melamine powder so their milk would seem higher in protein. Revenge attacks using rat poison or other chemicals are also common in China, where access to firearms and other deadly weapons is tightly controlled.
In April, three children died and another 35 were sickened by milk tainted with nitrite. An investigation showed that a local dairy farmer had put the poison into their competitor’s milk supply. Accidental contamination is also a problem, caused by low hygiene standards, particularly in rural areas, and weak quality control by regulators.
Moreover this year there has been hundreds of people, seriously sickened by clenbuterol-tainted pork. In fact, around twelve noodle makers were ordered to stop production because they were using ink, industrial dyes and paraffin wax as ingredients, and 16 tons of pork was pulled from the marketplace for containing sodium borate.
This chemical seemingly transforms cheap pork into darker, higher-value “beef.” Except from that, Chinese authorities became conscious of a 40-ton bean sprout debacle — farmers were using sodium nitrite (a known carcinogen), urea, antibiotics and a plant hormone called 6-benzaledenine to make the sprouts grow faster and look shinier.
Chinese officials have made 12 arrests and have investigated 1.200 criminal cases concerning “the illegal adding of non-edible materials in food” till now. Chinese officials have also destroyed key elements of black market food production as part of the latest crackdown, leading to 2.000 arrests and 5.000 business shutdowns.
Furthermore, exploding watermelons and pork scandals, caused by excessive chemical use, took hold of international media headlines. In the first six months of 2011, 45 people died from food poisoning, mostly from toxic chemicals according to China’s Ministry of Health, but despite all the government crackdown efforts food safety scandals continue in China.