Nongfu demands apology over faulty tests

08:09, December 04, 2009      

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A supermarket worker in Haikou, Hainan Province restocks shelves on Tuesday with Nongfu Spring beverages after the products were ruled safe to drink. (Photo: Xinhua)

Nongfu Spring, one of China's top producers of bottled water, has demanded an apology from the industry and commerce bureau of Haikou, Hainan Province though the bureau reversed an earlier claim that Nongfu products contained high levels of arsenic.

The bureau issued a warning that the company's 30 percent mixed vegetable and fruit juice and C-100 grapefruit juice contained excessive arsenic. Beverages made by Uni-President Co., were also identified as containing excessive arsenic.

Arensic is a chemical used for a variety of purposes and has been known to leak into the soil and contaminate water supplies. It could potentially be harmful to humans.

The bureau issued an arsenic warning November 24 and withdrew it one week later on December 1, raising concerns on the authenticity of the tests.

A retest conducted by the Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine on Tuesday showed that all the products were up to standard.

The provincial health department admitted that the bureau had "errors in its procedure."

"It (the procedure) didn't conform with the national regulation,"Ma Yongzhong, an official with the provincial health department, was quoted as saying by the Xinhua News Agency Thursday.

The company issued a statement Thursday, criticizing the test procedures as illegitimate even though it was cleared of the arsenic allegations.

"We have waited for the right results, but it came out through illegal methods,"it said.

Zhang Xinyue, a lawyer with the Jinkai Law Firm in Beijing, said regulations issued by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce in September prescribed that tests must be witnessed by three parties: the industry and commerce authorities, the producer and the lab in charge of the test.

"The producer has the right to know the results and apply for retests if they have doubts about the results. They also have right to choose the lab in which to conduct the retests,"Zhang told the Global Times.

But Nongfu was not invited to observe the tests, and was turned down by the Haikou bureau when they asked for a retest after they were informed of the first results by the media, according to Zhou Li, spokesman of the corporation.

Zhong Shanshan, board chairman of the corporation, said the second test result was correct, but they are still not satisfied and the initial economic loss caused by the first test could reach 1 billion yuan ($146 million).

"The bureau did not apologize to the public and the company while releasing the second test result on December 1. This is extremely irresponsible,"the company's statement said, adding that products of other companies may suffer from if the test is not improved.

The bureau's former director He Yunjie was transferred to the provincial administration for industry and commerce Tuesday. Jiang He, the former director of the administration, replaced He, Xinhua reported.

China News Service reported Thursday that the reshuffle was decided in October and was not related to the incident.

Wang Jianlu, deputy director of the bureau, admitted Thursday that it was a mistake not to have informed the manufacturers on a timely basis, Xinhua reported. Some customers said they have lost confidence.

"Two tests produced two contrary results. Which shall I trust?"Wang Yin, a resident in Hainan, told the Global Times.

An informal online poll by People's Daily Online Thursday with over 1,000 participants showed 85 percent held there was backstage manipulator.

Sang Liwei, a food safety expert, said it is difficult to restore consumer confidence in the products.

"It will take half a year or more to restore consumers' confidence,"Sang said. "The bureau should share responsibility."

Source: Global Times
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