By Xu Chi | 2012-11-23 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
Drinking 500 grams, or just over half a liter, of plasticizer-tainted Jiugui liquor a day is not harmful to health, quality watchdogs said yesterday in a statement that sparked disbelief online.
"Have the watchdogs reached such a conclusion by drinking the problem liquor every day throughout their life?" was one comment on Weibo.com.
Another said: "Never mind the plasticizer, drinking 500 grams of Chinese distilled liquor every day might cost you your life."
However, despite the watchdogs' assurances, the Hunan Jiugui Liquor Co yesterday apologized to customers and investors following tests earlier this week that showed excessive levels of toxic chemicals in samples of its product.
The listed company is to scrutinize every link in its transportation and packaging processes, determine the cause of the contamination and make rectifications, it said in a statement to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.
The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said on Wednesday that tests conducted by its Hunan branch found that liquor samples from Jiugui contained a level of 1.04 milligrams of dibutyl phthalate (DBP), a kind of plasticizer, per kilogram. The figure is much higher than the 0.3 mg per kg standard, a regulatory limit set by the Ministry of Health in June 2011, Xinhua news agency reported.
Xinhua said it had been 17 months since the China Alcoholic Drinks Association knew liquor products contained plasticizer, but that fact was only made public after media reports about Jiugui surfaced this week.
Following those reports, the liquor company based in Hunan Province had said its products were safe and denied reports of excess plasticizers.
It also said that the media reports had caused "confusion and misunderstanding" among its customers.
It admitted that DBP had been found, but said the substance would not harm health, if it was drunk "properly." But it didn't define "properly" and there are no indications on its products of what is a recommended daily amount.
According to CCTV and Xinhua, officials with the country's quality supervision administration, the health ministry and the national food safety evaluation center told reporters the potential harm of plasticizers depended on the amount consumed and over which period of time.
Removed from sale
The officials said they had studied the maximum amount of plasticizer substance a person could take - figures provided by the European Food Safety Bureau - and said it would be safe to drink 500 grams of plasticizer-tainted Jiugui liquor every day.
Jiugui liquor products had been removed from sale in most supermarkets in Shanghai and other cities and provinces across the country by Tuesday. They were also being removed from online stores, including those on Taobao.com, after the test results were revealed.
The name jiugui means an alcoholic in Chinese. But it is more likely to be translated literally according to the meaning of its Chinese characters - jiu for liquor and gui for ghost - after the plasticizer revelation.
In a play on words, a Xinhua editorial yesterday was headlined: "Is there ghost in liquor?"
Liu Xuejun, a food science professor at Jilin Agricultural University, told Xinhua there were two possible causes of excessive levels of plasticizers in liquor. They could leak from PVC tubes or vessels used for storage or transportation, or come from flavoring essence.