Chloramphenicol found in honey imported from China

Aug 29, 2002 (CIDRAP News) Ð Low levels ofchloramphenicol, a potentially harmful antibiotic that cannot legally be addedto food, have been found in honey imported from China, federal officialsannounced yesterday.

More than 50 containers of bulk Chinese honey have beendetained at US ports in the investigation, the US Customs Service and the Foodand Drug Administration (FDA) said in a joint announcement.  The agencies said the honey allegedlyhad been shipped through other countries in an illegal effort to evade USanti-dumping duties.

In rare cases, the use of chloramphenicol can lead toidiosyncratic aplastic anemia, a potentially life-threatening condition, theagencies said. The FDA said it is not aware of any contaminated honey on retailshelves, and no related illnesses have been reported.

For the few people who are susceptible to idiosyncraticaplastic anemia, a safe limit of chloramphenicol has not been established, theagencies said. "Nevertheless, the probability of this reaction occurringin the general population is very low," the announcement said.

Food and animal feed containing chloramphenicol are illegalin the United States, officials said. "Currently, Customs is stopping allsuspect bulk honey imports to this country for the FDA to determine whetherthey contain chloramphenicol. Any shipments containing chloramphenicol will bedetained."

Officials said the honey investigation was triggered bysuspicions of illegal dumpingÑsale of foreign goods within the UnitedStates at prices below the cost of production or below the price in the homecountry. As a result of the probe, anti-dumping duties were imposed in May 2001on honey from certain Chinese companies. Subsequently, Customs agents foundevidence that Chinese honey was being shipped to the United States throughseveral other countries to evade the duties.

"During the investigation, Customs officers in LosAngeles drew samples of bulk Chinese honey from several detained containersthat had arrived at the local port. A laboratory analysis found that the honeycontained chloramphenicol," the announcement said. The FDA later confirmedthe presence of chloramphenicol.

In June, the FDA announced it would increase testing ofimported shrimp and crayfish for chloramphenicol. The move followed reportsthat health agencies in Louisiana, Canada, and Europe had found chloramphenicolin shrimp and crayfish from China and Vietnam. At that time, the FDA said Chinahad banned the use of chloramphenicol in food animals and feed in March. Theagency also said Chinese officials reported that they were starting to testshrimp, crayfish, and other exported food products for chloramphenicol andother drug residues.

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