By Don Lee and Abigail Goldman
May 9, 2007
XUZHOU, CHINA — Before Mao Lijun's business exported tainted wheat products that may have killed American pets, his factory sickened people and plants around here for years.
Farmers in this poor rural area about 400 miles northwest of Shanghai had complained to local government officials since 2004 that Mao's factory was spewing noxious fumes that made their eyes tear up and the poplar trees nearby shed their leaves prematurely. Yet no one stopped Mao's company from churning out bags of food powders and belching smoke — until one day last month when, in the middle of the night, bulldozers arrived and tore down the facility.
It wasn't authorities that finally acted: Mao himself razed the brick factory — days before the investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration arrived in China on a mission to track down the source of the tainted pet food ingredients.
In the end, Chinese authorities caught up with Mao and arrested him. And Tuesday, after weeks of denials, China acknowledged that Mao's company and another Chinese business had illegally exported wheat and rice products spiked with melamine, a chemical used in making plastics and fertilizers. That chemical is banned in foods in the U.S.
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