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China pig crisis:

  • By Maryn McKenna
  • In China, more than 2,000 tons of fresh pork and pork products — at a minimum, 4 million pounds — have been recalled because the meat has tested positive for clenbuterol, a stimulant that is illegal in food-producing animals not only in China but in Europe and the United States. Another 1.6 million pigs are being tested.

    The story has been unfolding for the past week without much notice from Western media, but it has been heavily covered in China, even in English-language media there.

    Clenbuterol, which lingers in muscle tissue for months and concentrates in some organs, is hazardous to humans because of its stimulant properties: It revs up the heart and gives you the shakes, and can be especially dangerous for pregnant women. (Here’s the data sheet from the Food Safety and Inspection Service.) If it sounds familiar, that’s because its stimulant qualities also make it a performance enhancer — and thus a banned drug for elite athletes, including a listing on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List. Tour de France winner Alberto Contador was temporarily banned from cycling this year after a positive clenbuterol test, and US Olympic swimmer Jessica Hardy was found positive for the drug in 2008 (a finding she blamed on an allegedly tainted supplement). Clenbuterol’s a common subject on body-building forums (here’s one example) for its perceived ability to build lean muscle while diminishing fat.

    And that may have been the motivation in China: putting lean weight, inexpensively, on pigs.

    Read more here