More than 900 arrested on suspicion of selling fake or tainted meat products
One suspect spiced up rat, fox and mink meat to sell at markets in China
More than $1 million in rat and small mammal meat passed off as mutton
Just as rage over the elaborate horse-meat scandal begins to quiet down a bit, news comes that traders in eastern China have been passing off rat, fox, and mink meat as lamb.
Rat meat has been passed off as mutton and sold at markets in China, police have confirmed.
Authorities cracked a crime ring that saw more $1million in rat and small mammal meat sold as mutton, in a food safety crackdown that coincides with a bird flu outbreak that has sent poultry sales plummeting in China.
One vendor was found to be using additives to spice up and sell rat, fox and mink meat as fake lamb rolls at markets in Shanghai that are frequented by tourists.
‘After adding gelatine, carmine, nitrate and other substances, he sold the meat as fake lamb rolls [for hot pot] at farmers’ markets in Jiangsu and Shanghai’, authorities said of the suspect, who has the surname Wei.
Wei’s organisation was raided in Jiangsu and Shanghai in February, which led to the arrest of 63 suspects and the seizure of 10 tons of meat and additives.
The operations sales since 2009 are estimated to add up to more than 10 million yuan ($1.6 million).
Authorities have arrested 904 suspects since the end of January for selling and producing fake or tainted meat products, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement posted on its website on Thursday.
Despite persistent efforts by police, ‘food safety crimes are still prominent, and new situations are emerging with new characteristics’, the ministry’s statement said, citing ‘responsible officials’.
Police confiscated more than 20,000 tones of fake or inferior meat products after breaking up illegal food plants during the nationwide operation, the ministry said.
Altogether there were ‘382 cases of water-injected meat, fake mutton and beef, diseased meat, toxic and harmful meat products’, the statement said.
As well as rat and fox meat being passed off as mutton, inspectors found evidence of other vendors in southwestern Guizhou province mixing hydrogen peroxide solution with chicken claws, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Food safety and environmental pollution are chronic problems in China and public anxiety over cases of fake or toxic food often spreads quickly.
In April, many consumers lost their appetite for poultry as an outbreak of the H7N9 bird flu virus spread in China.
Sales dropped by 80 percent in eastern China, where the bird flu has been most prevalent, although experts stress that cooked chicken is perfectly safe.
In March, more than 16,000 rotting pigs were found floating in one of Shanghai’s main water sources, triggering a public outcry.
Over-crowding at pig farms was likely behind the die-off and their disposal in the Huangpu river.
The public security ministry said police had confiscated more than 15 tonnes of tainted pork in Anhui province, although as much as 60 tones had been sold in Anhui and Fujian provinces since mid-2012.
But it was the rodent meat in particular that people couldn’t stomach, with Internet users turning to the popular micro-blogging site Sina Weibo to vent their outrage.
‘Rats? How disgusting. Everything we eat is poison,’ one user wrote.
‘We are nearly immune to hundreds of poisons, should we thank these fantastic businessmen?’ another said.
China’s penal code, which forbids unsafe and poisonous food, does not specify what acts are considered in violation of the law.
Adulterating baby food so that it severely lacks nutrition is also punishable as a crime under the guidelines. Negligent government food inspectors are also targeted for criminal punishment.
The supreme court said 2,088 people have been prosecuted in 2010-2012 in 1,533 food safety cases. It said the number of such cases has grown exponentially in the past several years. For example, Chinese courts prosecuted 861 cases of poisonous food in 2012, compared to 80 cases in 2010.
“The situation is really grave and has indeed caused great harm to the people,” Pei Xianding, a supreme court judge, told a news conference.
“We cannot tolerate it any longer. We must punish the criminals severely, or we cannot answer to our people,” Pei said.