A rat-meat ring was busted by Chinese police early Friday morning. The criminals managed to pass off more than $1 million dollars in rat and small mammal meat as mutton, according to authorities.
Police arrested 63 suspects in this rat-meat ring bust, in a case valued at more than $10 million yuan ($1.6 million USD) in sales since 2009. The operation uncovered some 20,000 metric tons of fake or inferior meat products in the rat-meat ring bust that took place at illegal food plants nationwide. In the counterfeit meat, E. coli levels "seriously exceeded standards," according to the ministry.
The 63 suspects in the rat-meat ring bust are being accused of "buying fox, mink and rat and other meat products that had not gone under inspection," which they then treated with gelatin, red pigment, and nitrates, then sold as mutton in the Shanghai and Jiangsu province.
The police busted the rat-meat ring in a food safety crackdown that was spurred by a recent bird flu outbreak. According to Reuters, food safety and environmental pollution are chronic problems in China. Public anxiety over fake or toxic food scares spreads quickly, and to the extreme.
And this recent rat-meat ring bust isn't the whole story. Since January 2013, there have been 904 suspects arrested for selling and producing fake and/or tainted meat products in general, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
"Food safety crimes are still prominent," the Ministry said in a statement. "New situations are emerging with new characteristics." This is even despite persistent efforts by police to crack down on rat-meat and other dangerous substitutes. In just recent years in China, there have been reports of chemical-tainted milk and baby formula, glow-in-the-dark pork, lead- and cadmium-laced rice, fake eggs, fruit soaked in pesticide, and carcinogenic cooking oil.
Tainted meat plagues many businesses and people in these provinces and more. In the Shaanxi province last year, lamb cooked in a restaurant killed a customer and poisoned others; a suspect named Hao has been named. In the Fujian province, a group of suspects were arrested after they were busted by police to have been taking diseased pig carcasses and selling the meat as though it were clean.
In the Guizhou province, factories were busted soaking chicken feet in hydrogen peroxide before sending them out to be sold!
Prior to the rat-meat ring bust, much of China's poultry in April went uneaten due to a H7N9 bird flu virus that spread in the country. Sales dropped 80% in eastern China, where the outbreak was more prevalent. Experts continue to stress that cooked chicken is perfectly safe, but Chinese poultry consumers seem to have lost their appetite.
One month later, in March, more than 16,000 rotting pigs were discovered floating in the Huangpu River, one of Shanghai's main water sources. When there was a public outcry over the swine, investigations revealed that over-crowding at pig farms was likely behind the "die-off."
In addition and separate from the rat-meat ring bust, more than 15 metric tons of tainted pork was confiscated by police in the Anhui province recently. As much as 60 metric tons had been sold in Anhui and Fujian provinces in 2012.