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A Slippery, Writhing Trade Dispute

CHINA - At the Xulong eel factory here, a team of workers slice eels, lop off their heads and push them through a huge assembly line that will cook and package them for millions of customers around the world.

A sharp drop in seafood exports because of contaminants could be a serious blow to China's $35 billion aquaculture industry, including the Xulong eel factory, which claims to be one of China's cleanest operations.

The precision round-the-clock operation, aided by a roasting oven that spans the length of a football field, is one reason China now dominates the world’s seafood trade, and supplies 80 percent of America’s imported eel and 70 percent of its tilapia.

But the Food and Drug Administration says Xulong and other Chinese companies will be restricted from selling certain types of seafood in the United States because regulators keep finding Chinese imports contaminated with carcinogens and excessive antibiotic residues.

Here in the Pearl River Delta area, near Hong Kong, it is not hard to see why. Rivers, lakes and coastal waterways are so fouled with industrial chemicals or farm effluents that many seafood exporters are forced to rely on antibiotic drugs to keep their fish alive.

China’s coastal regions, after all, are also home to its biggest factories, which are famous for churning out electronics, processing chemicals and dumping mountains of toxic waste.

At the Xulong factory here, officials offered a tour of what they said was an up-to-date plant that forces workers to disinfect themselves by going through multiple washing stations. The officials showed off on-site testing labs and boasted that pure water from a local reservoir made their eel the best in China.

Even so, the company’s eel has been refused entry into the United States on multiple occasions. Last April, the F.D.A. refused four shipments of roasted eel from a nearby Xulong factory because they contained residues of banned antibiotics that could prove harmful to consumers.

In an interview here on Saturday, Xu Liming, vice chairman of the Xulong Group, defended the quality and safety of his products.

Source: The New York Times

the Fish Site Editor

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