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Tainted apple accusation affects exports, sales

(Xinhua)

13:44, June 16, 2012

An apple is wrapped in a bag to protect it from damage at an orchard in Zhaoyuan county of Yantai, a major apple production area, in East China's Shandong province, on May 29. (Da Lu / for China Daily)

JINAN, June 16 (Xinhua) -- A couple of countries have suspended imports of apples from a leading Chinese apple production base, following media reports alleging that local farmers have been wrapping the fruit in pesticide-coated paper, local authorities confirmed on Saturday.

Some Japanese clients have held back from importing apples, including canned varieties, from Yantai in eastern China's Shandong province, said Liang Chuansong, head of the city's agricultural bureau.

Indonesia has asked to test samples of the suspect apples, threatening to suspend buying if not, according to Liang.

Meanwhile, sales of Yantai apples in the country's southern regions have slipped nearly 20 percent, leaving inventories piling up to 300,000 tonnes despite this being the traditional peak selling season.

Yantai's two leading apple production bases, the county-level cities of Qixia and Zhaoyuan, have a combined annual output of at least 600 million kg of the fruit. They are sold nationwide as well as exported to many foreign countries.

The downturn came after regional newspaper Beijing News reported on Monday that farmers have been using allegedly "banned" chemicals including Tuzet and arsenical fungicide in wrapping young apples to ensure their fine appearance to boost sales.

The report stirred up a fresh wave of food safety concerns as the public have been unnerved by a string of reported hazards since 2008's melamine-contaminated milk scandal.

However, Shu Huairui, a fruit tree expert from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said these two chemicals are approved for use on fruits by the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA).

Farmers used to spray the two pesticides directly on trees before the wrapping became popular. As long as they stop it two months ahead of the harvest, apples are still perfectly edible, Shu said.

But the MOA has yet given permission to use them in wrappings, so technically farmers' use of the pesticide-coated bags is not allowed, Shu added.

Local government reiterated that Yantai's apples are safe, saying few orchards have employed the pesticide-coated packing and they had launched a city-wide battle against it since they first spotted such cases in 2010.

A total of 2.2 million such wrappings have been confiscated in Qixia since March, while 600,000 have been replaced, according to Chen Zhaokuan, mayor of Qixia city.

Liang said Yantai University was commissioned to check pesticide residue on fruit wrapped with the chemicals in the city in 2011, and the levels did not exceed national standards.

"The apples also passed the MOA's quality checks in 2010 and 2011. We exported 217,000 tonnes of apples last year and 56,000 tonnes in the first five months this year. Not a single quality dispute was reported," according to the agriculture chief.

Local government is currently sending samples drawn from inventories to institutions in other provinces for thorough inspections. They have also invited testing organizations in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing to check the apples sold in local marketplaces.

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