Saturday, May 04, 2013

Chinese food scandal finds rat disguised as mutton

Consumers in Britain may still be reeling following the horse meat scandal, but bear a thought for the Chinese who this week learned that they may have unwittingly been eating rat, fox or mink instead of mutton or beef.

The state news agency Xinhua reported that a total of 904 people had been arrested in connection with the production of fake beef and mutton made from rat and fox. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) said on Thursday that since 25th January police had uncovered 382 cases involving meat-related offenses, and seized more than 20,000 tonnes of meat.

According to the report the criminal gangs had used several processes to disguise the meat including water-injection and the use of chemicals, some of which were reported  to be carcinogenic. The operation was said have been worth more than 10 million RMB [$1.62 million].

The ministry cites other cases where criminals had tampered with food. One investigation uncovered an operation where the suspects had been using hydrogen peroxide solution to process chicken claws to make them whiter, and potentially more appealing to the consumer. The criminals had been operating since July 2011, producing more than 300 kg of processed chicken feet every day, and raked in more than 4 million RMB [$650,000].

Food safety is a massive issue in China. In the past there have been scandals concerning melamine added to milk, including baby formula which left at least 6 children dead and hundreds of thousands sickened.

Xinhua reported that police were now focusing on crimes involving dairy products, according to an unnamed official, adding that there were some deep-seated food safety problems yet to be solved.

While the publication of the news might be seen as a way of being transparent, consumers may be wondering why the news has only now been made public given that some criminal operations were uncovered some months ago. Many will also be wary of meat products still on the shelves. Processed chicken claws may have been packaged and sold to shop months ago, complete with its cocktail of hydrogen peroxide, an oxidizer used in the bleaching of human hair and paper as well as in the treatment of wastewater. There may also be many slices of frozen rat, mink or fox sitting in freezers all across China.

With reports of an ongoing investigation into milk production, consumers in China may be wondering if anything is really that safe to eat.

[WSJ / BBC / GuardianXinhua / CRI English]

tvnewswatch, Yunnan, China

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