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Chinese crackdown reveals rats, pesticides and chemicals were on the nation’s dinner plate

  • Gwynn Guilford
By Gwynn Guilford


Published This article is more than 2 years old.
Shanghai Public Security Bureau, via Shanghaiist
Lamb or rat—can you tell the difference? (Real lamb at left.)

Remember when Chinese people got all mad that Ikea was making Swedish meatballs in China, even though it had been spared the horse meat scandal? Here’s why. Every time they thought they were eating fresh meat, there was a solid chance that they were instead ingesting the flesh of rat, mink, or fox. Or perhaps the meat was rancid, diseased, and doused in pesticides or peroxide.

Details of this activity is just now trickling out, after the government announced a crackdown on fake meat that saw the seizure of 20,000 tonnes (22,046 tons) of sketchy animal flesh and the arrest of more than 900 people since January.

Here’s a roundup of the foulest bits:

That’s not beef jerky—it’s duck, with a dash of e. coli. Authorities seized around 15 tons of fake beef jerky and dried mutton made in Inner Mongolia, which had been produced from duck and miscellaneous meats. Testing revealed high levels of e. coli bacteria in the jerky (link in Chinese).

What might look like char…. One suspect in Shaanxi allegedly sold lamb that had turned black and reeked of pesticides to a local barbecue joint. One person subsequently died, while many others were sickened. Investigators determined that the sheep whose carcass had been sold to the local restaurant had died of pesticide poisoning.

Carcasses for sale. And it wasn’t just that lamb: The government arrested scores of operations throughout the country engaged in the collection, processing, and sale of already dead animals, many of which were diseased. One popular technique for giving the meat the appearance of being somewhat fresh was injecting it with water, something that may be more widespread than previously realized (link in Chinese).

Bleached chicken feet. Two Guizhou factories were busted for dousing chicken feet, a common Chinese appetizer, in hydrogen peroxide. They sold about 600 pounds for around 4 million yuan in profits since July 2011.

Foxes and minks and rats—oh my! One suspect brought in more than $1.6 million in the last four years, for passing off the fox, mink, and rat meat as lamb. How’d he manage that? His operation, which employed more than 60 people, treated the meat with gelatin, nitrate, and a red dye created from pulverilzed beetles. Via CCTV’s Weibo, here’s a look:

The government has put out a helpful guide to detecting fake meat, from which we got the images at the top. It notes that there’s a clear divide between the red and white sections of the marble of the real lamb meat, while the marbling on the fake meat is indistinct. In a casual sample of five high-end hotpot restaurants, the government noted that only one had real meat.

And those with strong stomachs should stay tuned. Authorities say a crackdown on the dairy industry is up next.

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