Rat for dinner: Hundreds arrested in China, where eating is ‘game of chance’

A woman wears a mask as she shops in a market in Shanghai in April. Bird flu has Chinese shoppers fearful of poultry. Now a three-month national campaign has found rat and other uninspected meats disguised as beef and mutton.
(Peter Parks / AFP/Getty Images)
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Rats disguised as mutton? Out of China comes a story of crimes against meat and man. And be warned: It will make you lose your appetite.

Chinese authorities say uninspected meats, including fox, mink and rat, were disguised as beef and mutton with the addition of food coloring and chemicals and sold at markets in Shanghai and Jiangsu province. More than 900 people have been arrested in a three-month national meat-crimes sting.

The Los Angeles Times’ Don Lee reports 1,721 factories have been closed and authorities have seized 20,000 tons of fake, diseased or otherwise adulterated meat.


Nonvegetarian diners in China are running out of choices of meats. Bird flu has people suspicious of chicken and duck, and after thousands of pigs were founding floating -- no, not swimming -- in a river near Shanghai, there were fears those carcasses were winding up in butcher shops.

Questions of food safety, of course, are not new to China. Mary Kay Magistad, a correspondent in Beijing for PRI’s the World, said in a 2012 article that eating in China “can be a diner’s delight or a hellish game of chance.”

The affluent, she wrote, can buy organic or imported food, or fare from boutique farms. Others take their chances. That “beef” could be pork made to taste like beef thanks to a carcinogenic chemical. Rotten fruit might be pickled and put on store shelves. And in 2008, melamine masqueraded as protein in milk powder for babies. Hundreds of thousands were sickened.

In 2008, the Los Angeles Times told of concerns that fish from China also was contaminated with melamine, which can cause kidney stones and even renal failure.

There are a lot of tips and advice about how to eat safely in China. Common sense helps. Drink bottled water. Avoid less-frequented restaurants. Ask that meat be cooked thoroughly -- and check that it is. Avoid cold meat platters and buffets.

The good news is, the Chinese public and government are becoming more vigilant about food safety. With hope, the situation will only improve and diners in China can relax and enjoy their food.



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