More than $1 million in rat and small mammal meat was passed off as mutton in a ring Chinese police busted, in a country wrought with environmental pressures such as the bird flu outbreak and incidences of fake or toxic food run high.
Fake meat was likely sold in Shanghai and in Jiangsu provinces, CBS reported, and 63 have been arrested in connection with the ring. More than 22 tons of fake or inferior meat products, which appears to have been on the market since 2009, have been seized by authorities, officials said. And that number is likely to rise.
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The arrests were a fraction of the 904 arrests authorities made since the end of January. The suspects have been accused of producing or selling fake or tainted meat products masked with chemicals, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement posted on its website on Thursday, according to Reuters.
One of the suspects, Wei, who was thought to lead the ring, reportedly purchased the unpalatable meat, treated it with gelatin, carmine, and nitrate, then spiced it up to sell it as mutton (lamb). He spiced up meats like rat, fox, and mink.
Users took to China's microblogging site Sina Weibo to vent their outrage.
"Rats? How disgusting. Everything we eat is poison," one user wrote.
The ministry didn't say much to help people feel less disgusted, effectively shrugging their shoulders.
"Food safety crimes are still prominent, and new situations are emerging with new characteristics," the ministry's statement said.
Just a month ago, consumers had another all-consuming food-related concern: an outbreak of the H7N9 bird flu virus, which deterred many consumers from purchasing poultry.
Reuters reports that the outbreak caused sales to drop 80 percent in eastern China, where the virus has been most prevalent
. Officials have asserted cooked chicken is in fact safe to qualm fears.
Before that outbreak, more than 16,000 rotting pigs were found floating
in one of Shanghai's main water sources in March and more than 1,000 dead ducks were found as well
. The source was likely over-crowding at pig farms; farmers dumped their carcasses in the Huangpu river. In that case as well, officials tried to reassure residents the water was safe to drink.
Renmin University professor Mao Shoulong told the New York Times that China should expect more scares in the years to come.
“The United States and Europe can’t eradicate these problems either, but they are even more complicated in China,” Shoulong said. “Chinese food production has become larger scale and more technological, but the problems emerging also involve using more sophisticated technology to beat regulators and cheat consumers."
Officials have to come up with more advanced technology to quash the issue.
“The government’s efforts need to catch up with the scale and complexity of the problems,” he said.
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