As athletes around the world train intensely for the upcoming London Olympics 2012, the Chinese team members are on a quite unusual diet, according to reports in China.
Because of concern over additives in pork and other meats, the athletes at the Jiangsu Sports Training Center have been put on a strict vegetarian regimen. That diet also is having international repercussions.
40 days, and no meat
Li Zhongyi, a deputy chief at China’s General Administration of Sport (GAS), said that the athletes had eaten no meat for 40 days. That’s according to a report in China Dialogue, a nonprofit organization based in London and Beijing.
A report this week in the South China Morning Post, a major English-language newspaper based in Hong Kong, incidentally, said the Chinese Quarantine Bureau rejected a shipment of 103 tons of U.S. pork this spring after tests found traces of ractopamine, a drug that is banned in China (but has nonetheless been found in meat produced in China). The ban shows the concern officials have over additives in meat imports. And that’s especially true when it comes to Olympic diets.
China Daily, a state-run newspaper, said that the sports administration confirmed that Chinese Olympic athletes are avoiding meat and that officials are being “very strict with its athletes’ meals, nutritional supplements and drugs.” The newspaper added that, “The pre-emptive measures are taken to help Chinese athletes shun the doping issues caused by the contaminated foods.”
Searching for safe meat
Yang Hongbo, head of catering for 700 always-hungry, high-performance athletes at the Jiangsu center said he has having a “terrible time trying to find beef that is safe for his charges to eat,” said the Business Standard of India. Yang said he had searched for suppliers in China would could guarantee additive-free beef. “No company dares to sign a contract promising their meat does not contain clenbuterol or ractopamine,” Yang told the state-run Global Times.
Among the drugs that Chinese sports officials are concerned about are clenbuterol (which is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency
but is legal in China and by China although there is, apparently, widespread illegal use) and ractopamine, both of which are fed to animals to produce leaner meat. Besides China, ractopamine is banned in Taiwan and the EU, according to Here and Now, a program from WBUR. Health officials in the U.S., Mexico, Canada and South Korea believe the drug is safe for human consumption.
The Morning Post said: “China’s pork imports from the U.S. climbed more than three-fold in 2011, but some U.S. meat industry executives say China could reduce imports this year as domestic production rises, reducing local prices and making imports less competitive.”
The Food and Environment Reporting Network, a nonprofit group in the U.S., has said of the drug:
Although few Americans outside of the livestock industry have ever heard of ractopamine, the feed additive is controversial. Fed to an estimated 60 to 80 percent of pigs in the United States, it has resulted in more reports of sickened or dead pigs than any other livestock drug on the market, an investigation of Food and Drug Administration records shows.
The FDA, which regulates livestock drugs in the United States, deemed ractopamine safe 13 years ago and approved it, setting a level of acceptable residues in meat, the nonprofit said.
China, by the way, is the world’s largest consumer of pork, as well as the largest producer, according to various estimates. The country consumes more than 120,000 tons of pork daily, according to an estimate by the Pork Network, a pork industry website.
The ban imposed by China, is not expected to lead to any retaliatory measures by the U.S., Reuters reported this week. If a rash of such cases were to be found over time, China could in theory impose more restrictive barriers to U.S. imports, Reuters said, but the amounts involved are tiny compared with its overall import volume and imports also help Beijing moderate domestic food inflation.
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