A fresh food scandal erupted in China after the country's largest meat processor was forced to apologize when an illegal additive was reportedly found in some of its pork products.
Henan Shuanghui Investment and Development Co said it had halted operations at one of its subsidiaries while authorities investigate the case, in a statement to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange Wednesday, where it is listed.
In a separate statement dated Wednesday its parent Shuanghui Group expressed a "deep apology for the incident in the unit, which had troubled consumers".
The news follows the 2008 milk scandal in which a chemical was found to have been added to watered-down milk, leading to the deaths of several babies and left thousands sick.
Products marketed under Shuanghui Group's Shineway brand were produced from pigs that were fed clenbuterol, an additive that can speed up muscle building and fat burning to produce leaner pork, the reports said.
The additive, known among farmers as "lean meat powder", is banned in China because if eaten by humans it can lead to dizziness, heart palpitations and profuse sweating, the reports said.
The listed company said its shares were suspended Wednesday until official findings were released "to avoid major impact on the company's stock price".
"If it spreads to other producers, it will send shockwaves across the nation's meat industry, similar to the 2008 milk scandal," Zhao Yong, an industry analyst with Haitong Securities, told the Global Times newspaper on Thursday.
As supermarkets pulled Shineway products from their shelves, the China Meat Association tried play down the possibility that tainted pork was widespread.
"It's only an isolated case and was only found in one Shuanghui company. It won't bring destructive damage to either the industry or Shuanghui," the industry association's spokesman, He Zhonghua, told the Global Times.
China reported 18 outbreaks of food-related clenbuterol poisoning between 1998 and 2007, according to a report on the Shanghai Food Safety website. One person died and more than 1,700 others fell ill, the website said.
The latest batch of tainted pork products was first reported by state broadcaster China Central Television earlier this week.
China's dairy industry still has yet to fully recover from the loss of trust caused by the 2008 milk scandal where melamine, normally used to make plastics, was added to watered-down milk to make it seem higher in protein.
Twenty-two dairy producers were found to have sold products laced with melamine that killed at least six babies and left nearly 300,000 others ill.