The European Union (EU) has suspended imports of products of animal origin from China. This follows a European Commission (EC) inspection that identified a lack of controls on the use of veterinary drugs and other products in animals and animal products which could lead to residues and contaminants presenting a risk to public health.

The EU has instructed that affected products currently in transit from China will only be allowed entry for the next six weeks subject to intensified monitoring and testing to ensure their safety. They will not be allowed into the food chain unless positively cleared. These precautionary measures are supported by the Food Standards Agency and will be subject to review by the EC on the basis of new inspections in China.

Except for honey, the general level of imports of the affected products to the UK is reported as low. These products include rabbit meat, fish and shellfish. Poultry is also affected, but there have been no direct imports of poultry from China into the UK since a ban on Chinese poultry imports was lifted in May 2001. Only products approved by the EU may be legally imported into the UK.

The Food Standards Agency is issuing guidance to all UK border inspection posts to ensure that any affected products currently in transit from China will only be allowed into the UK if they have passed strict safety checks.

The Agency has started, on a precautionary basis, safety checks on samples of products affected by the ban that are already in the UK.

The Agency’s consumer advice based on current information, is:

The Food Standards Agency is not advising against the consumption of animal products from China that may already be in the UK and has not been asked to do this by the European Commission.  However, consumers should be aware that there may be a risk that cannot yet be identified in these products.

The Agency is not advising consumers against eating Chinese food. Nor is the Agency advising consumers to avoid Chinese restaurants or take-aways.

The Agency is not advising against the consumption of honey but, as a precautionary measure, is undertaking immediate safety checks.

Although unrelated to this issue, existing Agency advice is that honey should not be given to infants under 12 months old because of the small risk of botulism.

Further public advice will be issued if new evidence emerges from the Agency’s safety checks.

Routine surveillance carried out in EU member states during 2001 showed that chloramphenicol, a potential carcinogen without a safe level of exposure, was present in certain fish and shellfish products from China, Vietnam and Indonesia. As a result all imports into the UK of these products from China, Vietnam and Indonesia have to be tested before entry.

Fish that are caught, frozen and packaged in their final packaging at sea and landed directly into the EU are not affected by the ban.