Health Officials to Detain Chinese Seafood Imports

Washington (CBS/AP) - Imports of five species of farmed Chinese seafood will be detained until they can be shown free of potentially dangerous antibiotics, federal health officials said Thursday.

The Food and Drug Administration said it would detain three types of fish — catfish, basa and dace — as well as shrimp and eel after repeated testing has turned up contamination with drugs unapproved in the United States for use in farmed seafood.

The contaminants in question, according to the FDA are: nitrofuran, malachite green, gentian violet, and fluoroquinolone.

"Nitrofuran, malachite green, and gentian violet have been shown to be carcinogenic with long-term exposure in lab animals," the FDA said in a press release. "The use of fluoroquinolones in food animals may increase antibiotic resistance to this critically important class of antibiotics."

FDA officials said there was no immediate health threat because of the low level of the drugs, but that they could cause harm if they were consumed over a long period.

"In order to get cancer in lab animals you have to feed fairly high levels of the drug over a long term," said Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection. "We're talking not days, weeks, not even months but years. At these levels you might not reach that level, but we don't want to take a chance."

He added, "We don't want to be alarmist here. ... it's a low likelihood."

The announcement was only the latest in an expanding series of problems with imported Chinese products that seemingly permeate U.S. society, from its playrooms to its prisons.

Beyond the fish, federal regulators have warned consumers in recent weeks about lead paint in toy trains, defective tires and toothpaste made with diethylene glycol, a toxic ingredient more commonly found in antifreeze. All the products were imported from China.

The New York Times reported today that approximately 900,000 tubes of tainted Chinese toothpaste has shown up in prisons, juvenile detention centers and hospitals in North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, including some serving the general population.

State officials in Georgia and North Carolina said no illnesses have been reported, and the toothpaste in question is being replaced with brands not manufactured in China.

The report came the same day that a Chinese official defended the safety of his country's exports, taking the rare step of commenting directly on rising fears over Chinese products following toothpaste and tire recalls, as well as reports of food tainted with industrial chemicals and pigs headed for slaughter with bellies full of wastewater.

Wang Xinpei, a spokesman for the Commerce Ministry, said China "has paid great attention" to the issue, especially food safety because it concerns people's health.

"It can be said that the quality of China's exports all are guaranteed," Wang told reporters at a regularly scheduled briefing.

(Copyright 2007, CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. )


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