A Chinese court has sentenced 113 people, including 77 government employees, as the result of a scandal involving clenbuterol used in swine feeds. Clenbutoral is banned as a livestock feed additive as it can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches and heart palpitations in humans. The incident was originally reported in March.

Sentences range from jail terms to the death penalty, according to Central China's Henan Province court. The main offender, Liu Xiang, was convicted of harming public safety and sentenced to death, according to Chinese officials. The death penalty will be delayed two years, however.

The original investigation focused on several farms in central Henan province found to be adding clenbuterol to swine feeds. The compound reduces the fat content of pork by increasing the rate at which body fat is metabolized. China is the world’s largest consumer of pork.

Clenbuterol had been used illegally in China on prior occasions. In September 2006 330 people in Shanghai were reported to have been poisoned by eating pork contaminated by the compound that had been fed to the animals to keep the meat lean.

Liu's workshop producing clenbuterol, a carcinogen, was seized in Henan's Xiangyang in March, 10 days after he was prosecuted, the court said. Liu's collaborator, Xi Zhongjie, was sentenced to life.

According to xinhuanet.com, Liu and Xi invested 50,000 yuan, (about $8,000 U.S. dollars) each in clenbuterol production in 2007 and sold the chemical to pork producers for significant profits. By March this year, they had sold more than 2,700 kg of the compound which was then distributed to eight provinces including Henan, Shandong and Jiangsu provinces.

All the government employees involved in the scandal, including animal health inspectors and food safety officials, received sentences ranging from three to nine year for negligence and power abuse, according to the Chinese court. Punishments for 36 hog farmers involved were more lenient and ranged from probation to jail terms less than a year, it said.

In March, China Central Television (CCTV) reported that clenbuterol was detected in pigs purchased by a subsidiary company of Shuanghui Group, China's largest meat processor. The report was followed by a nationwide boycott of the Shuanghui brand and a food safety overhaul.

Source: Xinhuanet.com