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This donkey meat is actually fox meat, claims irate Chinese Wal-Mart customer

Tack this one onto the slew of incidents that make 2013 China’s year of fake meat: A man surnamed Wang is accusing a Wal-Mart in northern China of passing off fox meat as donkey meat—a regional delicacy.

The Shanghai Daily reports that Wang, who had the meat tested because he “thought it tasted strange,” is reportedly asking for compensation worth 10 times the amount paid, citing China’s Food Safety Law. Wal-Mart and the donkey meat manufacturer are reportedly refusing, says the Shanghai Daily, citing possible extortion efforts. (After all, who buys 1,600 packs of donkey meat that “tastes strange”?) Wal-Mart had not responded to our request for comment at the time of publishing.

As rising disposable incomes have boosted demand, prices for popular meat like beef, mutton and even donkey have soared in recent years. Selling undesirable (and cheaper) meat under these names can therefore boost profits enormously.

At the same time, as Chinese demand for fur garments has surged, so too has its fur processing industry, which now generates around 20% of the global fur market. Fox pelts fetch a handsome sum, making the leftover meat cheap and abundant. But as a fox breeder told the Shanghai Daily, because it gives off an unpleasant smell, people are generally unwilling to eat it (knowingly, that is).

Flayed fox meat from a Chinese fur farm.

Nevertheless, fox meat sells for between two and six yuan per kilogram ($0.72-2.16 per pound), probably thanks in part to the growing market for products that disguise unappetizing meat flavor. Beijing Evening New reporters offer one example (link in Chinese): Guangzhou Guibao Food Company’s “Fish-Smell Removal King.”

“Getting rid of the fishy smell of fox meat is one of the hardest tasks in the world!” says Guibao’s site (link in Chinese). “With the ‘Fish-Smell Removal King’ product, fox meat can now gain people’s acceptance as a cuisine!”

“For hard-to-get-rid-of fishy smell, use Fishy Smell Removal King! Eliminates the fishy/rank/urine-y/strange odor of all kinds of animal meat and viscera.” qx48.com

This might be good for fox breeders, but as Chinese media report, fox meat poses a health risk to humans, potentially because of parasites. Also, fur garment processing on the animals involves a heavy dose of chemicals, and Chongfu is notorious for lax attention to environmental regulations.

A worker arranges fox fur at a private fur workshop in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province March 11, 2013. REUTERS/William Hong
Fox pelts being processed in Chongfu, the hub of China’s fur industry. Reuters/William Hong

No wonder “Fish-Smell Removal King” aims to obscure the taste of badger, civet, raccoon and mink. All of them are animals raised for their pelts to meet rising Chinese demand for fur.

Additional reporting by Yang Gang.

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