An association of eel importers suspended its quality-guarantee system about a month after it was launched in March because a banned antibiotic was detected in frozen eel products from China, the association said Thursday.

The Japan Eel Importers Association decided to suspend its sticker assurance system after enrofloxacin, a synthetic antibiotic for animals, turned up in a number of tests. The substance was believed to have been used at eel farms to prevent illnesses.

The situation has dealt a blow to the eel-importing industry, particularly with the midsummer Day of the Ox, for which nationwide campaigns promoting eel consumption are held, coming up Sunday.

Japan depends heavily on imported eel from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong because domestic supplies have recently been running short.

The Tokyo-based association began the safety-assurance system voluntarily in an effort to regain consumer trust in imported eel following news reports last year about mercury detected in imports from China.

Under the system, the group checks products for substances such as antibiotics and mercury when they are being processed in China and when they are imported. It also inspects processing factories in countries of origin to see whether they meet its safety standards.

The safety-guarantee stickers were to be placed on products that pass the screening.

But in March, enrofloxacin was detected by the quarantine office in frozen eel grilled without seasoning that were imported from China.

After being notified by the office, the association conducted its own tests in April and the antibiotic was also detected in eel grilled with soy sauce.

Since July 3, when the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry began to require all imported eel products to be tested for enrofloxacin, there have been additional cases in which the antibiotic was detected.

Takashi Moriyama, who heads the importer association, said, “To reach a fundamental resolution, we need to strictly control the safety management of eel farming pools, and we will work on tackling this area.”

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