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Faked Eggs:
The World's Most Unbelievable Invention

Alexander Tse-Yan Lee, B. H. Sci.; Dip. Prof. Counsel.; MAIPC; MACA
Queers Network Research
Hong Kong China


Citation:

Alexander Tse-Yan Lee: Faked Eggs: The World's Most Unbelievable Invention. The Internet Journal of Toxicology. 2005. Volume 2 Number 1.


Table of Contents

Abstract

This article is the first in a series of case reports addressing the problems of some selected artificially made food products in Mainland China (These food products are sold to consumers in Mainland China, Macau, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other countries). Drawing on reliable data extracted from Chinese newspapers, magazines and the Internet, this study takes a closer look at the problem of faked eggs in Mainland China. It seeks to inform the scientific and medical communities regarding the problems of consuming these products as well as the short- and long-term epidemic consequences.

A Brief Introduction to Problem Foods in Mainland China

Cases of problem foods and food poisoning are widely reported in Mainland China over the last few years. In 2001, there were 185 cases of food poisoning, affecting about 15,715 people and causing 146 deaths ( 5 ). The cases doubled in 2002 ( 6 ). In 2003, the number of reported cases was ten times more than that in 2001, and the number of people suffered was as high as 29,660, including 262 deaths ( 7 ).

Although the Chinese government sought to tackle the problem ( 1 ), the situation has become worse than before. As there are countless cases of newly discovered problem food products and large scale of community food poisoning, it is time to explore how problem foods are manufactured and affect human health. What follows suggests that there are a variety of problem foods ranging from primary-food to processed-food products.

This article is the first in a series of case reports addressing various problem-food products in Mainland China as well as its possibly associated acute and chronic impacts on health after short- and long-term consumption. Through this series of case reports, it hopes to alert the international humanitarian, scientific and medical communities regarding such a serious matter and to throw light on possible solutions to the problem in China.

The Eggs that Cause Problems

Whenever faked food products are identified, people often assume these foods to be sub-quality secondary or tertiary processed food products such as canned food, sauces or snacks. Until recently, however, it seems that even the primary food products can be artificially altered, faked and even human-made.

The “Red Yolk” Eggs

In early 2004, a program entitled “Weekly Quality Report” broadcasted by China’s government-run Chinese Central Television (CCTV) investigated the so-called “best quality free-range chicken eggs” sold at supermarkets in Tianjin. This kind of eggs has a red egg yolk, which is believed to be top-quality chicken eggs. According to a supermarket staff, the red egg yolk had to do with the use of first-class poultry feed, the success of nurturing technique and the good quality of the chickens (figure 1) ( 4 ).

Figure 1: The use of food color additive Carophyll Red in chicken feeds in China (captured from CCTV) (4).


However, it turned out that the “red yolk” eggs were not free-range chicken eggs. The so-called top-quality chickens were not true and the poultry feed was ordinary feed. The redness in the egg yolk was actually caused by the feed that was mixed with an unknowingly large quantity of poultry feed additive called the carophyll red® (figure 1) ( 4 ).

Carophyll red® (with 10% of canthaxanthin) is a colouring agent for foods and drugs as well as animal, poultry or fishery feeds. The use of carophyll red® in chicken and duck feeds is known to have caused chickens and ducks to produce eggs with red yolk ( 4 , 8 , 9 ). In some countries like China and Taiwan, the redder the yolk, the better it is in terms of the egg quality and class, and the more profitable ( 4 , 9 , 11 ).

The European Commission of Health and Consumer Protection has limited the use of canthaxanthin in chicken feed to no more than 25 mg/kg ( 9 ). In fact an increasing number of naturally synthesized alternatives are available today to replace the synthetic one such as canthaxanthin ( 11 ). In China, the use of such additive in animal and poultry feeds is still common but is now restricted to below 30 gram per tons according to international standards ( 4 ). Based on the CCTV “Weekly Quality Report”, the chicken farmer used excessive amounts of feed additives and added unknowingly large quantity to the feed in order to get the desired result in three days – the red egg yolk.

Although no severe toxicity (hepatotoxicity and carcinogenicity) has been found through human observation studies ( 10 ), long-term consumption of foods with high quantity of canthaxanthin will cause some adverse effects. Previous studies have shown the dose-response relationship between canthaxanthin intake and the development of crystalline deposits in the retina of human ( 10 , 12 ). It is known that long-term consumption of high canthaxanthin dosage (acceptable daily intake in human is 0.03 mg/kg of weight) can induce canthaxanthin retinopathy, especially on those with pre-existing retinal diseases ( 9 ), thereby affecting sight and raising the risk of possible long-term blindness ( 12 ).

The Soil-Filled Eggs

Another type of faked eggs was reported in the Chaozhou-speaking area of northeast Guangdong province in early November 2004. A customer who bought a box of eggs at 45 kg from a mall found eight faked eggs in the box. The faked eggs were filled with soil inside. In China, egg is sold based on weight. The heavier the egg, the more profitable it is. Some fraudulent businessmen and farmers are reported to have filled the broken chicken eggs with soil and sold them. Retailers usually purchase large quantities of eggs and cannot check the eggs carefully ( 13 ).

Besides health concerns, the problem of soil-filled eggs reveals how badly regulated the primary food sectors are in China. Businessmen and farmers will do anything for profits even at the expense of public health and interest. The Chinese government has yet to develop a new regulating and monitoring system, no matter what it says about the efficiency of its current system. At the present, consumers in China have to be aware of the severity of problem foods and rely on themselves in avoiding possible public health risk.

The Human-Made Eggs

The problems of the dyed and soil-filled chicken eggs represent a tip of the iceberg. The most disgusting faked eggs are the “human-made” eggs. One will be absolutely sick in the stomach if one consumes this product.

In June 2003, there was a Chinese article about a consumer purchasing a bag of human-made eggs from the food market in Beijing. Although the faked eggs looked practically the same as real ones, the consumer smelled chemicals when cooking the eggs (figure 2). The egg yolk dispersed quickly when it was mixed with the egg white, and the colour was pale. No flavour could be tasted after cooking. According to the officials of the National Bureau of Industry and Commerce, the faked eggs were made from chemicals ( 14 ).

Figure 2: The fake egg in cooking and in raw status (2).


News of human-made eggs was not confined to northern China. It was widely reported across the country. In less than a year, the faked egg industry has integrated itself into the retailing and wholesaling markets in Guangzhou. There is even a company openly teaching people the technique of manufacturing this kind of eggs.

Evidence from Hong Kong and Guangzhou shows that the Guangzhou Bureau of Industry and Commerce identified a “faked eggs production” center and found more than ten thousands faked eggs at the centre in October 2004 ( 2 , 3 ). That center was believed to be one of the many production centers.

A team of journalists from Hong Kong went to Guangzhou to investigate the matter. They found that there was even a “science and technology development company” teaching people how to make faked eggs out of chemicals. The course lasted for three days and cost six hundred dollars including the cost of equipments. The notes can be acquired separately at the cost of another hundred dollars. After the training, some people worked full-time to manufacture faked eggs for the market ( 2 , 3 ).

The chemicals used in synthesizing the faked eggs include baifan (alumen), gelatine, lactone, carboxymethyl cellulose, calcium choride, sodium alga acid, sodium benzoate, lysine, paraffin wax, calcium carbide, gypsum powder and so on (chart 1). Although the chemicals used are not severely toxic, some of them post some long-term health risks when consumed or overdosed ( 2 , 3 ). For example, baifan (alumen) has been linked to Alzhmer’s disease if consumed for a prolonged period of time ( 2 ). Exposure to calcium carbide by faked egg producers due to carelessness can cause immediate irritation to the eyes and skin in the short term, while lung-irritation related bronchitis might arise in the long run ( 13 ).

Chart 1: The Process of Producing a Human-Made Egg (2).


Is it a good advice to sniff the eggs only?

At this stage, the National Bureau of Industry and Commerce in China has only told consumers how to distinguish the real products from the faked ones. However, no particular action has been taken by both the central and provincial governments to tackle the current situation and stop the production of problem foods.

With respect to the problem of faked eggs, the consumer council in China only taught the public to sniff the eggs as a means of differentiating the real eggs from the fake ones based on the characteristic odour of normal chicken eggs ( 14 ). But this advice ignored the potential problem of possible avian influenza outbreak. It also undermined the avian influenza prevention efforts and created confusion and panic among the public. Evidently, the Chinese central and provincial governments are unable to cooperatively implement any preventive measures when dealing with problems of this kind. In addition to the continuous problems of government corruption, one can never rule out the possibility that some local government officials profit from the production of problem foods and therefore, are determined to oppose any efficient monitoring and regulatory systems.

Conclusion

After joining the World Trade Organization and becoming integrated into the global economy, it is extremely important for China to develop an efficient food monitoring and regulatory system in order to prevent the frequent outbreaks of large-scale food poisoning nationally, if not globally. It is also important to create a safe and healthy environment for children in China. Otherwise, the children will suffer most from consuming these problem foods. If this problem remains unsolved, there will be an unprecedented scale of chronic diseases in China in the nearest future.

Acknowledgement

I want to thank Mr Raymond Yau and Ms Carmen Huen for helping me to gather data from the Internet and magazines, Dr. David J. Padula of the South Australian Research and Development Institution (SARDI) for ideas and insights, and Prof. Joseph Tse-Hei Lee of History Department at Pace University in New York for suggestions and comments.

Correspondence To

LEE, Alexander Tse-Yan (B. H. Sci.; Dip. Prof. Counsel.; MAIPC; MACA)
Queers Network Research
Contact Phone: +852 3643 9664; +852 9500 7628
Contact Fax: +852 2398 9060
qnr.alexander@gmail.com
F/F, 2/F, Lung Kee Building,
3 Poplar Street, Mongkok, Kowloon,
Hong Kong SAR, China.

References

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2. Yeung, S. H., Lau, W. Y., Yu, Y. L., & Wong, H. M. (2004). "Even the eggs are faked! ." East Weekly, Hong Kong, 24: 20-24.

3. Unknown (2004). "Hong Kong will work hard in preventing the import of faked eggs: Some people in Mainland China openly held classes teaching such techniques while the Department of Food and Environmental Hygiene will follow up the matter ." The Orisun Daily, October 28, 2004, Hong Kong. [www.the-sun.com.hk/channels/news ... ]

4. China Central Television (CCTV). (2004) "Weekly Quality Report: Change of heart in chicken eggs." April 25, 2004. CCTV. People's Republic of China.

5. Unknown (2004). "China, I am beyond anger!" Lao Jiao Essay. Article 2249. [www.laojiao.org/essay/article224 ... ]

6. National Department of Health (2003). Cases of Food Poisoning and Causes in 2002. The Summary of National Health Statistics 2002. People's Republic of China.

7. National Department of Health (2004). Cases of Food Poisoning and Causes in 2003. The Summary of National Health Statistics 2003. People's Republic of China.

8. Wong, H. L. & Yeung, S. D. (1981). "The economic impact of adding canthaxanthin (carophyll red®) in feed on duck's egg yolk colour." Modern Animal Reproduction. 15 (1): 77-78.

9. Lapointe-Shaw, L. (2003). "Drug information: canthaxanthin articles and reports." About MyMeds. [aboutmymed.com/canthaxanthin/can ... ]

10. Olsen, P. "(-). 839: Canthaxanthin. World Health Organization Food Additives." Series 35: [www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/j ... ]

11. Santos-Bocanegra, E., Ospina-Osorio, X. & Oviedo-Rondon, E. O. (2004). "Evaluation of Xanthophylls extracted from Tagetes Erectus (Marigold Flower) and Capsicum Sp. (Red Pepper Paprika) as a pigment for egg-yolks compare with synthetic pigments." International Journal of Poultry Science. 3(11): 685-689.

12. Unknown (2003). "Food colouring causes eye problem." The Scotsman, January 28, 2003, Scotland.

13. New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Service (2003). Calcium carbide hazard summary identification. Right to Know Program. CAS: 75-20-7; DOT: UN 1402. New Jersey, USA.

14. Unknown (2003). "Human-made eggs appeared in Beijing: Completely artificially synthesized from inside out." E-North News, July 17, 2003, [news.enorth.com.cn/system/2003/0 ... ]

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