Rat-Meat Ring Busted: 5 Other Food Safety Crimes In China

By iScienceTimes Staff on May 3, 2013 11:24 AM EDT

Rats
Police in China have busted a rat-meat ring, along with uncovering a variety of other food safety violations as part of a government crackdown. (Photo: Reuters/China Photo)

Police in China have busted a rat-meat ring, which sold the meat as lamb.

The crime ring allegedly passed off $1.6 million worth of rat, fox and mink meat since 2009, using additives--among them gelatin--to disguise the meat's true origin. Over 50 rat-meat dens were raided nationwide by Chinese police, who in recent months have arrested over 900 suspects for a variety of meat-related violations, seizing 20,000 tons of inferior and fake meat.

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"How many rats does it take to put together a sheep?" asked one irate Chinese Internet commenter. "Is it cheaper to raise rats than sheep? Or does it just not feel right unless you're making fakes?" Another commenter was more direct: "Everything we eat is poison."

The crackdown on improper and tainted meat is part of a Chinese campaign to improve food safety in the wake of China's recent bird flu outbreak, which has claimed 26 lives. In March, Chinese Premier Li Kegiang announced his government would start regulating food quality with an "iron fist."

Rat meat--when not passed off as something else, of course--is a common food in some parts of the world, such as Africa, where cane rats are farmed and eaten. Last year, in England, some called for the legal importation of rat meat after it was discovered that rats were being illegally sold in a London food market, arguing that it was no less healthy that other types of exotic meat.

Food safety violations in China are nothing new, and the new "iron fist" policy comes in the wake of a number of disastrous global incidents for both Chinese food manufacturers and the police and officials tasked with regulating them. Here are five of the most shocking:

1. Recently, in the Guizhou province in southwestern China, food vendors were found to be using hydrogen peroxide on chicken claws, which makes the claws appear whiter. Chicken feet are used in a variety of popular Chinese dishes--preferably without hydrogen peroxide.

2. In March, officials found 16,000 dead pigs floating in a Shanghai river which serves as one of the city's main water sources. The pigs were believed to have died due to overcrowding on farms, at which point they were unceremoniously dumped into the river.

3. As part of the recent food safety crackdown, one company in rural China was found to be warehousing over 20 tons of unprocessed meat treated with flavoring additives and covered in bacteria, along with fake "beef" jerky--in reality, bits of duck, miscellaneous meats, and plenty of E. coli. 

4. One widespread violation in China is "digou" oil. This "sewage oil" or "ditch oil" is made by boiling, refining and then skimming leftover foods and garbage. The oil is then sold to restaurants as cooking oil.

5. In 2008, officials discovered that the chemical melamine had been added to dairy products such as milk and infant formula. Melamine is used in Formica, cleaning products, and insulation. In this case, it was used to add apparent protein to the dairy. 300,000 people became sick, six babies died, and two of the criminals involved in the melamine case were executed.

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