MEAT, PORK AND CHEESE IN CHINA

MEAT IN CHINA

rightThere is a saying in China that you are lonely if you don’t eat meat. Vegetarianism is not big in China. Many of those that eat a vegetarian diet do so because they are too poor to afford meat. People that choose vegetarianism voluntarily are generally considered wackos or very religious Buddhists or Taoists.

Chinese dishes made with pork and freshwater fish such as carp, catfish, and bass are common. Other dishes are made from chicken, duck, pigeon, goose, eggs (from chicken, ducks and pigeons). Beef is considered an expensive luxury.

China is the world’s top consumer of meat and grain. Chinese eat twice as much meat as they did in the mid 1980s. Meat production reached 76.5 million tons in 2005, a 5.7 percent increase from the previous year, and more than twice as much as the United States, and is expected to keep rising at a rate of 5 percent a year as disposable incomes rise and people can afford to eat more meat more often.

Chinese eat about 50 kilograms of meat a year compared to 122 kilograms in the United States. Traditionally, Americans and Chinese ate about the same amount of pork, with Americans eating far more chicken and beef. Meat consumption in China increased from around eight kilograms per person a year in 1961 to around 50kilograms in 2007. In the last 20 years vegetable consumption by the average Chinese of has decreased by 50 percent while the consumption of meat has increased 81 percent and eggs 51 percent.

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China is seen as a growth market for chicken consumption in the future. Chinese now consume chicken at a relatively low rate per capita. By 2025, according to to some estimates, chicken consumption will surpass that of pork.

Denny Thomas and Olivia Oran of Reuters wrote: There is a growing appetite in China “for protein-rich food, particularly pork, the leading animal protein consumed there. As its middle class expands, the country is relying on foreign producers to keep pace with demand. Demand for U.S. meat in China has risen tenfold over the past decade, fueled in part by a series of embarrassing food safety scandals, from rat meat passed off as pork to thousands of pig carcasses floating on a river. Public anxiety over cases of fake or toxic food often spreads quickly. [Source: Denny Thomas and Olivia Oran, Reuters, May 29, 2013 *^*]

Good Websites and Sources: Vegetables: Vegetables in China sinosplice.com ; About.com Chinese Vegeyables chinesefood.about.com ; Asian Fruits and Vegetables chinesefood.about.com Food in China: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Eating China Blog eatingchina.com/blog ; Chinese Government site china.org.cn; China Tour.com chinatour.com ; Open Directory List dmoz.org ; Nice Chinese Food Blog nicechinesefood.com ;Wikipedia article on History of Chinese Food Wikipedia ; Chopstix chopstix.com ; Asia Recipe asiarecipe.com ; Chinese Food Recipes chinesefood-recipes.com

Links in this Website On Food in China: FOOD IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MEAT, VEGETABLES, SWEETS AND FRUIT Factsanddetails.com/China ; RICE, TOFU, DUMPLINGS AND NOODLES Factsanddetails.com/China ; REGIONAL CHINESE FOOD Factsanddetails.com/China ; RESTAURANTS AND FAST FOOD Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEIRD FOODS IN CHINA NO. 1 Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEIRD FOODS IN CHINA NO. 2 Factsanddetails.com/China ; FOOD SAFETY IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; EATING AND DRINKING CUSTOMS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China

Meat Eating in China

right Chinese often have meat dishes, usually made with pork or poultry, for lunch and dinner. Pigs, ducks and chicken are widely eaten because these animals will eat almost anything and the can be raised almost anywhere.

Chicken dishes often have lots of bone pieces in them because the chicken is hacked apart with little consideration to the bones. Chinese eat other kinds of bird. Fang Xiaowen, once the highest ranked woman on the Forbes magazine list of 50 of China's richest entrepreneurs, made a fortune breeding pigeons as sources of food before expanding into peacocks, ostriches and emus.

The Chinese eat every imaginable part of every imaginable animal because meat is in short supply in their overpopulated country and they have to take advantage of the few animals they have. Supermarkets and department stores sell Ma Ling cow's tendon, White Lotus pig's trotters in gelatin, Sunflower pork luncheon meat, and China National Foodstuffs boneless chicken pieces in spicy broth.

Because of a lack of refrigeration, the Chinese have developed the habit of keeping a potential meal alive as long as possible. Fish and lobster at restaurants are kept in tanks and ducks and pigs are slaughtered shortly before they are sold. When transported, pigs are inhumanely placed in cramped cages and stacked on three-decker vans. Thirty or forty are sometimes tied together and carried on the back of a bicycle.

Wal-mart appeals to local tastes by offering popular Chinese products like live frogs and eels and turtle blood. Some stores offers live river fish, eels and turtles that are slaughtered right on the spot. Sometimes customers catch them in fish tanks with nets, watch as a clerk guts and cleans them and then take them home in plastic bags along with the bloody organs. Shoppers have turned up their noses at the idea of buying dead fish wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam.

See Livestock

Pork in China

left Pork is the most popular meat in China and its price has a big impact on the public's inflationary expectations.Pigs are the main source of protein in China as they are in Southeast Asia, and Melanesia. The Chinese eat about as much pork per capita as Americans and collectively eat about half the world’s pork.

Pork is a staple food in China, which has the largest porcine population in the world. Its 475 million pigs represent nearly half the global total. Some 70 percent of these animals are raised by small farmers, and mortality rates are high. In the town of Jiaxing alone nearly 750,000 pigs die of disease every year, estimates Mr. Lin. [Source: Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, March 14, 2013]

David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “China's leaders have good reason for concern. Pig meat is the fuel that powers the populace. Closing in on 100 pounds per person annually, the Chinese eat about twice as much pork as Americans, stuffing it into their dumplings, barbecuing it with honey and stewing it with pickled greens. As Vice President Joe Biden learned on his recent visit to a Beijing restaurant whose specialties are pork liver and intestine, nary a part of the hog is wasted.” [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2011]

Pork consumption has risen with China’s prosperity, increasing by 45 percent between 1993 and 2005 from 25 to 35 kilograms. During the 1990s, pork production increased by 70 percent, with much of the growth occurring in densely-populated coastal areas. "When someone says they're eating 'meat' in China, they mean they're eating pork," Feng Yonghui, an industry analyst for the pork market website soozhu.com, told the Los Angeles Times. "Most people can't live without it."

Chinese eat every part the pig and often consider the ears, tongues and snouts to be the choicest parts. Unlike other domesticated animals, pigs are prized as source of meat and little else. They can't be ridden, milked or used to pull or carry things. But they are one of the most efficient sources of meat. For every 100 pounds of feed consumed by a pig it produces 20 pounds of meat (compared 14 pounds for chicken and 7 pounds for cattle). A Chinese adage goes, "The world will be in peace as long as there are grains and pork." favored curs of mear include ribs, lean tenderloin and juicy pig's feet, known as zhu ti.

On all the ways she can cook pork at home a 71-year-old grandmother told the Los Angeles Times, "I can make mu shu pork. I can stir fry it with carrots and cucumbers. I can even 'red' cook it," Wang said, describing the famous sweet and sticky braised pork belly favored by Mao Tse-tung.” Roasted pig is sometimes prepared in a Chinese Box, a sheet-metal-lined plywood box. In parts of southwestern China, pigs are gutted, salted and sealed. The meat inside the hide stays preserved for years. National Geographic photographer Micheal Yamashita samples some and said it was "sweet and quite tasty."

Shi Zhijun, owner of a Beijing restaurant that sells pork-filled steamed buns, told the Los Angeles Times, "Eating pork is good for people. Everybody should eat at least a half-jin [500 grams] every day. It's very nutritious?” It helps people grow. If you don't eat pork you will be very thin and weak." Pork is used in half the items on the restaurant’s menu.

See Livestock

Pork Production and Importance of Pork to the Chinese Economy

China, by far the world's biggest producer of pork, is home to about half the world's porcine population with 460 million pigs. That's about seven times more than the United States, the second-largest producer.

China's government is so sensitive to the country's appetite that it maintains a strategic reserve of 200,000 tons of frozen pork. It has tapped that secret stash in recent weeks to increase supply. But analysts said it will make little difference in a nation that consumes 100,000 tons of pork daily. [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2011]

David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Pork’s importance goes far beyond prices at the corner noodle stand. Economists follow its movements to predict government policy shifts on inflation. “"The continued rise in inflation so far this year, which neither we nor the market had anticipated, was entirely caused by rising prices for pork," Mark Williams, chief China economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a recent research note to clients. [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2011]

It takes five months to a year to get piglets ready for slaughter. Populations have been growing in recent months. Still, Feng of soozhu.com says there's little policy makers can do but sit and wait. "The government has limited options," he said. "They can import more, but most of the production is already in China."

High Pork Prices

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Braised pork in
brown sauce
The price of pork rose 57 percent in June 2011 and was a major reason for the 14.4 percent jump in June food costs which in turn pushed inflation to a three-year high of 6.4 percent in June. Pork prices account for only 3 percent in the weightings of the consumer price index, but a 40-to-50 percent spike in pork prices can haul inflation rate up by 1.2-1.5 percentage points. "Although pork prices represent a tiny proportion of the CPI basket, it is the most volatile component affecting consumer inflation," said Ma Dongfan, a farm product analyst at CEBM, a research firm in Shanghai. [Source: Reuters. July 9, 2011, Joe McDonald, AP, July 12, 2011]

Pork prices are unusually volatile because some farmers stopped raising pigs after a 2007 outbreak of blue ear disease killed hundreds of thousands of animals and prompted Beijing to destroy millions more. In 2011, several forces were behind the striking surge in pig prices. One was reduced supply, stemming first from an outbreak at the start of the year of a disease affecting pigs, as well as a scandal involving dangerous additives found in hog feed, which forced some farmers to slaughter their herds. Farmers have also been squeezed by rising corn prices and labour costs, which have flowed through to the price of meat. "The things pigs eat now cost more than what people eat," a farmer named Li Nahou was quoted as saying.

Analysts predicted prices of pork would continue rising in 2012. "It takes time for farmers to increase their hog stocks, so it is unlikely we will see a price drop any time soon," said Ma at CEBM. But some analysts also said that with the hog disease no longer affecting livestock and feed prices starting to fall, pork prices may ease earlier. "Pork prices are still on the upswing, but we reckon the rise will be shorter than that in the previous cycle of 2007-2008. Pork prices could peak sooner than the market expects," said Ting Lu, an analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Hong Kong, in a recent report.

In Beijing, soaring pork prices have left pork peddlers like Wang Qiang despondent. Sitting in the quiet butcher's corner of an otherwise bustling market, he said his sales have dropped by a third since prices started rising in May. Two of his three competitors at the market closed shop in June, discouraged by sluggish sales. "I'm losing money every day," said Wang, 28, as he rearranged the meat in his refrigerated display case in an effort to catch shoppers' eyes. "People are buying less because they think it's too expensive."

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High pork prices have changed the eating habits of ordinary Chinese. Unable to afford pork they are eating more poultry. Chicken consumption is expected to triple between 2008 and 2013. Individual shoppers and restaurateurs are cutting back."It was 11 yuan a jin (half-kilogram) here a few weeks ago. Then 13. Now 15!" one shopper, Shu Ying, told Reuters before she left empty-handed. A retired woman told AFP, “We can hardly afford meat now, it's too expensive,” explaining that she and her husband now only enjoy that privilege two or three times a month.

The Chinese government gave no details of measures to cool pork prices but said farmers cited high costs for corn used as pig feed. Economists generally believe monetary policy won't hold down pork prices, but Chinese policy makers must be wary about recent signs that price rises are spreading from food items to services. Some researchers and market traders urged the government to release some of its reserves if prices keep rising. The government has also ordered food processors and other consumer goods makers to hold down price rises.

In July 2011, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called for steps to cut production costs for pork and ordered local leaders to boost pork production to help cool inflation. "Pork consumption is a firmly fixed consumer necessity of the masses. A stable pork market is the government's unavoidable responsibility," Wen told farmers at a village in Shaanxi province, according to the statement. [Source: Joe McDonald, AP, July 12, 2011]

See Livestock

Chinese Official Suspended over Pig Trotter Banquet Bills

In October 2013, the BBC reported: “A Communist Party official in China has been suspended after running up huge unpaid bills at a pig trotter restaurant, state media report. Han Junhong racked up bills totalling 700,000 yuan ($115,000) over three years, the Global Times said. The cash shortfall forced the restaurant's owner to close its doors. [Source: BBC, October 28, 2013 <>]

“The case, which provoked a storm of criticism on social networks, is the latest example of abuse of power and runaway spending by Chinese officials. Mr Han, party secretary of Wangluo, a small town in the central province of Henan, racked up the bills while entertaining guests at the pig trotter restaurant. The restaurant - whose signature dish is braised forelimb in brown sauce - is a designated venue for official functions in the town, the Global Times reported. The paper offered no details on the breakdown of the bills - such as how many trotters had been consumed. <>

“The case caught the attention of state media after being exposed by a user of Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter. Mr Han had been suspended from his post pending a disciplinary investigation, the Global Times said, adding that his bills had also been settled. Another state newspaper, Beijing News, quoted the restaurant's owner, Geng Weijie, as saying: "I am seriously ill, I have a small child, and my family has debts to pay." Chinese president Xi Jinping has ordered an austerity drive by Communist Party and government officials. Measures include ordering no more than "four dishes and a soup" at banquets. However, high-profile cases of wasteful spending and corruption persist. <>

Dairy Products and Cooking Oil in China

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Chinese drink 1.3 ounces of milk a day, compared to 25 ounces a day by Americans. However, milk consumption in China is rising about 15 percent a year as the government promotes it as a heath drink for children and this is beginning to have global impact on milk supplies.

Cartons and bottles of milk as well as yoghurt and individually-wrapped cheese slices are fixtures of even small local supermarkets. Big chains like Carrefour and Wal-mart offer wedges of blue cheese and Camembert and wheels of Gouda and Edam. Products from the Chinese dairy giant Mengniu are touted as the official drink of the Chinese space program and a product that will “fortify the Chinese people.”

Yoghurt drinks are becoming popular amon the Chinese middle class. Howard Schneider wrote in the Washington Post, “Dressed in a Minnie Mouse costume to promote a drinkable yogurt branded with Disney characters, she ticked off the benefits of the flavors blended with fruit, vegetables and grains to try to suit the local palate. Stretching across an entire back wall at a Wal-Mart Supercenter were pumpkin and oat yogurt, pineapple and barley, red bean and mulberry, aloe, lichi and grape, yogurt with tuckahoe (an herb considered good for the spleen) and yogurt mixed with gelatinized donkey skin (said to have been an emperor’s favored energy drink).” [Source: Howard Schneider, Washington Post May 22, 2011]

According to reports from the U.S. Foreign Agriculture Service, Chinese yogurt sales grew 15 percent in 2009, and dairy consumption overall is expanding 10 percent a year. Since dairy consumption remains low by the standards of the developed world, the report noted, it is expected to continue growing fast. The government plans to double dairy production by 2013, adding millions of cows to the dairy herd.

The Chinese have traditionally not liked dairy products. Traditional Chinese dishes rarely have cheese, milk, cream sauces, or butter or other dairy products in them. Many Chinese will eat dog meat but not touch any dairy products. They find the smell very offensive, and can smell it even on people’s clothes.

Some Chinese who consume dairy products get cramps and diarrhea became they lack an enzyme in their intestines that helps them digest lactose (the predominant sugar in milk). Depending on the region, between 70 and 100 percent of Chinese have a lactose deficiency. The unpleasant consequence of consuming milk products can be negated by eating fermented forms of milk such as yoghurt and cheese, in which the lactose is broken down into more easily-digestible sugars.

Consumption of milk has increased in recent years in part because of a government directive issued in 1998 for children to drink one glass of milk a day in school at lunch to address a lack of calcium in the traditional Chinese diet. There have been dramatic increases in the consumption of milk, yoghurt, cheese and fast food and pizza with cheese, and milk for lattes and coffees.

See Food Safety: Melamine-tainted Milk

Cheese and Chicken Feet in China

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Phoenix talons
Many Chinese villagers have never seen or tasted cheese. On her experience working at a French specialty foods shop in Beijing, a villager from rural Hubei province told the Los Angeles Times, “I like the lamb chops and the salami...But the cheeses, I don't like any of them. I can't think of anything I've ever tasted that's so horrible." [Source: Benjamin Haas, Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2011]

Benjamin Haas, Los Angeles Times, “Except for a small number of ethnic Mongolians and Tibetans, China has no tradition of cheese making, and an estimated 90 percent of the population is lactose intolerant.Exacerbating the issue, Chinese are especially wary of dairy products amid a continuing problem with tainted milk that has killed dozens of people.”

Chicken feet, or chicken paws, are called phoenix talons on some restaurant menus in China, where they are as popular snacks or dim sum items. In 2011, National Geographic reported: “Chicken-feet-200 A trade dispute between the U.S. and China has caused an unlikely---and costly---flap in the global poultry market. The U.S., it turns out, is the Asian nation’s biggest provider of jumbo-size chicken feet. “The demand for paws in China is insatiable,” says poultry consultant Paul Aho. Light on meat but rich in gelatinous collagen, chicken feet are popular in China prepared in soy sauce or with pickled peppers and served with beer or tea. In contrast, the American appetite for them is so small that they were cooked down for uses such as animal feed before China opened up to U.S. chicken a decade ago. That might help explain the dramatic surge in U.S. paw exports to China and Hong Kong (left), which surpassed $350 million in 2009. But this year, following tensions over various trade issues, China imposed duties that sharply curtailed imports of U.S. chicken. Trade to Hong Kong, which has its own regulations, remains robust. Insiders say a mutually palatable resolution may take time. [Source: Luna Shyr, National Geographic, November 3,2010 ]

Trade Dispute over Chicken Feet

In 2012 China imported 231,700 tons of chicken feet from abroad, a trade worth around $350 million. Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post, “The United States produces billions of broiler chickens each year, specially bred to be big and juicy, with plump, sturdy feet to hold them up. And for years, all those feet were considered excess parts that were mostly ground into pet food. But in China, those same feet are a popular snack, often washed down with a beer. And so, a few years ago, a kind of trade synergy began, with the United States shipping to China all those otherwise worthless chicken feet. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, December 16, 2011]

The trade grew rapidly, from virtually nothing in the 1990s to 377,805 metric tons worth $278 million in 2009. Then suddenly in 2010, it all went awry. China began imposing stiff duties---including a tax of more than 100 percent---on those American chicken parts. The move was in response to a request by Chinese chicken farmers and processors, who claimed the U.S. government was unfairly subsidizing the American poultry industry through low feed prices and then selling the “chicken paws,” as they’re known in industry parlance, into China at below-market cost.

The Chinese move raised an interesting legal question: How can the United States be dumping an item at below cost in China when that item is considered virtually worthless at home? “It’s taken what used to be a part of the bird that had to be disposed of in the United States and turned it into a revenue stream,” said Scott Sindelar, the Agriculture Department’s attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

The United States has asked the World Trade Organization to resolve the issue. In a statement, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said, “We are serious about holding China accountable to its WTO commitments and ensuring that there is a level playing field for American businesses---including our farmers.”

“Our industry cannot allow something as unjust as this to stand because of the precedent it sets for other countries,” said James H. Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council in suburban Atlanta. But he added, “We hope this does not negatively impact a lot of other areas of cooperation we have going with the Chinese poultry industry.” Many here and in the United States suggested that the duties were really the Chinese government’s retaliation for the Obama administration’s decision in 2009 to slap tariffs on Chinese tires, fulfilling a 2008 campaign pledge while trying to bolster the ailing U.S. tire industry.

Since the imposition of the tariffs, American chicken parts exported to China have collapsed 90 percent, and the industry has lost an estimated $1 billion in exports to China, according to the council and other analyses. The blow comes as poultry farmers and manufacturers say they are already feeling financially squeezed between high grain prices and the depressed American economy that has seen lost restaurant sales and lower prices for breast meat. “We just feel compelled that we must get back into the China market,” Sumner said. The next step for the chicken feet is up to the WTO, which will form a dispute resolution panel. “We hope, of course, that this happens as soon as possible,” said Sumner, “and this doesn’t become a long, drawn-out case.”

Black Market Chicken Feet

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Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post, “Also hurt in the cross fire have been China’s legions of chicken feet consumers, who are known to like the plumper, juicier feet of American chickens. And with China facing several food safety scares, some food producers and customers said they prefer the imported paws, which they consider cleaner and higher quality.

Other chicken-producing countries, such as Brazil and some European and Middle Eastern countries, have tried to fill the void. But also there has been a different solution to the impasse---a burgeoning black market for U.S. chicken paws, coming in illicitly to avoid the high tariffs.

The purchasing manager for Youyou Food Co. in Chongqing City, a major chicken foot distributor, said many Chinese importers now first ship the American paws to a third country, and then relabel them before bringing them into China to avoid the higher costs. ‘so the tariff doesn’t really cause any problems for us or other chicken feet consumers in China,” said the manager, who asked to be identified only as Peng.

According to recent Chinese media reports, customs inspectors in Nanjing have investigated four incidents of frozen American chicken parts being smuggled into China since March and arrested a dozen people. Xinhua, the state-run news agency, reported that on Nov. 9, the provincial government in Yunnan province destroyed 450 tons of smuggled frozen meat, including pig’s feet, cow’s stomach and chicken paws, some of which came from the United States.

See Livestock, Economics.

Poor Quality Meat in China

In May 2013, Reuters reported: “Police confiscated more than 20,000 metric tons (22.046 tons) of fake or inferior meat products after breaking up illegal food plants during the nationwide operation, the ministry said. In April , many consumers lost their appetite for poultry as an outbreak of the H7N9 bird flu virus spread in China. Sales dropped by 80 percent in eastern China, where the bird flu has been most prevalent, although experts stress that cooked chicken is perfectly safe.In March, more than 16,000 rotting pigs were found floating in one of Shanghai's main water sources, triggering a public outcry. Over-crowding at pig farms was likely behind the die-off and their disposal in the Huangpu river. The public security ministry said police had confiscated more than 15 metric tons of tainted pork in Anhui province, although as much as 60 metric tons had been sold in Anhui and Fujian provinces since mid-2012. [Source: Reuters, May 3 2013]

Jonathan Kaiman wrote in The Guardian: “Suspects in the Baotou city produced fake beef and lamb jerky from duck meat and sold it to markets in 15 provinces. Levels of E coli in the counterfeit product "seriously exceeded standards", the ministry said. Hao, another suspect, from Fengxiang city, Shaanxi province, last year sold mutton that had turned black and reeked of agricultural chemicals to a barbecue restaurant, killing one customer and poisoning a handful of others. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian, May 3, 2013 <<>>]

In Fujian province, five suspects were arrested and two factories shut for butchering disease-ridden pig carcasses and selling their meat in nearby provinces. The suspects had been hired by the agriculture ministry to collect the carcasses from farmers and dispose of them properly. Authorities closed two factories in the south-western province of Guizhou for soaking chicken feet in hydrogen peroxide before shipping them to markets. And in Zhenjiang city, Jiangsu province, two people were arrested for selling pork products that were made with meat from "poor quality pig heads". <<>>

China's meat markets are already reeling from a spring riddled with food safety scares. Pork sales plummeted in March after about 16,000 pig carcasses were dredged from a river in Shanghai, an incident authorities have yet to fully explain. A virulent strain of avian flu has killed 26 people and put more than 129 in hospital since mid-April, wreaking havoc on the domestic poultry industry. <<>>

New guidelines calling for harsher penalties for those found guilty of producing or selling unsafe food products were announced by the country's top court. The supreme people's court said the guidelines would list as crimes acts such as the sale of food excessively treated with chemicals or made from animals that have died from disease or unknown causes. <<>>

Rat, Mink and Fox Meat Passed Off as Mutton

In May 2013, Xinhua reported that police had arrested more than 900 people in a food tampering operation that routinely passed off rat, mink and fox meat as mutton. Chinese authorities seized 20,000 tonnes of illegal meat products.

Reuters reported: “Chinese police have broken a crime ring that passed off more than $1 million in rat and small mammal meat as mutton, authorities said, in a food safety crackdown that coincides with a bird flu outbreak and other environmental pressures. Authorities have arrested 904 suspects since the end of January for selling and producing fake or tainted meat products, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement posted on its website. During the crackdown, police discovered one suspect surnamed Wei who had used additives to spice up and sell rat, fox and mink meat at markets in Shanghai and Jiangsu province.Police arrested 63 suspects connected to the crime ring in a case valued at more than 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) in sales since 2009.[Source: Reuters, May 3, 2013 <<<<]

“Despite persistent efforts by police, "food safety crimes are still prominent, and new situations are emerging with new characteristics", the ministry's statement said, citing "responsible officials". But it was the rodent meat in particular that people couldn't stomach, with Internet users turning to the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo to vent their outrage. "Rats? How disgusting. Everything we eat is poison," one user wrote. <<<<

Jonathan Kaiman wrote in The Guardian: “Police in China have arrested 904 people for "meat-related offences" over the past three months, including a gang that made more than £1m by passing off fox, mink and rat meat as mutton, the country's public security ministry has announced. Since January, authorities have seized 20,000 tonnes of illegal products and solved 382 cases of meat-related crime – primarily the sale of toxic, diseased and counterfeit meat. One suspect, named Wei, earned more than £1m over the past four years by purchasing fox, mink and rat meat, treating it with gelatin, carmine (a colour produced from ground beetles) and nitrate, then selling it as mutton at farmers' markets in Jiangsu province and Shanghai. Authorities raided Wei's organisation in February, arresting 63 suspects and seizing 10 tonnes of meat and additives. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian, May 3, 2013]

Responding to the scandal, police in Zhejiang province posted a guide to distinguishing between real and fake mutton on China's most popular microblogging site, Sina Weibo. Here is a translation of their instructions: 1) “Today I'm going to share with you how to distinguish between real and fake mutton. If you don't look carefully, it's very hard to tell the difference – both have streaks of red and white meat. But after a bit of careful observation, we can tell that there's really a big difference. For fake mutton, the streaks of white and red meat are separate. The white is white, and the red is red. The white and red streaks in real mutton are interlocking. The streaks are very distinct, and look very natural. The best way to tell whether the mutton is fake is to thaw out the slices. After they've been thawed, fake mutton slices immediately revert back to their original shape. Lets look at the following pictures. After the fake mutton is thawed, the red and white streaks come apart at the slightest touch.

2) Another thing that's different about real mutton – when we tear the slices by hand, the white and red meat stick together. The quality of the meat is very natural. Look at the real and fake meat slices after they've been completely thawed. It's obvious – with fake mutton, the red and white parts are completely separate. And they look like they were pieced together. The streaks on the real mutton slices are also very obvious. They look very natural.

3) Put the fake mutton into the hot pot to boil for a bit and take a look. This here has been boiled for about two minutes. After hitting the boiling water, the fake kind began to fall apart, and the colour became unnatural. For real mutton, the meat tightens up. Now do you know how to tell the difference between real and fake mutton?

50-Year-Old Zombie Chicken Feet Seized In Illegal Food Bust

Kavitha A. Davidson wrote in the Huffington Post, “There's something fishy about these chickens. Chinese police have uncovered an illegal food storage site in China's southern city of Nanning that reportedly contained chicken feet nearly a half century old. According to the South China Morning Post, more than 20 tonnes of expired meat were seized in the raid, including beef tripe, cartilage, and the aforementioned chicken feet, some of which dated all the way back to 1967. The site was busted back in May, though the details of the operation have only been made public recently. [Source: Kavitha A. Davidson, Huffington Post, July 12, 2013]

A Xinhua report cited by the South China Morning Post notes that the chicken feet were smuggled across the border from Vietnam still frozen. Once in China, they were processed with various chemicals, including bleach, to add weight and improve their coloring, making them appear fresh. Chinese consumers took to the internet to react to the bizarre news. Some users called the contraband "Jiangshi Fengzhao," or "zombie chicken feet," while others had a more tongue-in-cheek response, postulating that the expired feet might "have a flavor of history," Xinhua notes.

This latest revelation once again highlights consumers' concerns over food safety in China. According to the South China Morning Post, border police have intercepted seven different smuggling attempts in the past year, seizing 20 million yuan (about $3.3 million) of illegal chicken feet.

Chinese Demand for Pork Spurs $4.7 Billion Smithfield Deal

In May 2013, China's Shuanghui International said it planned to buy Smithfield Foods Inc for $4.7 billion in part to cash in on growing demand in China for U.S. pork.Denny Thomas and Olivia Oran of Reuters wrote: “The proposed takeover of the world's No. 1 pork producer has stirred concern in the United States. The transaction would rank as the largest Chinese takeover of a U.S. company, with an enterprise value of $7.1 billion, including debt assumption. As it stands. the deal is the biggest Chinese play for a U.S. company since CNOOC Ltd offered to buy Unocal for about $18 billion in 2005. The state-controlled energy company later withdrew that bid under U.S. political pressure.[Source: Denny Thomas and Olivia Oran, Reuters, May 29, 2013 *^*]

“Like similar foreign transactions, the Smithfield deal will face the scrutiny of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, a government panel that assesses national security risks. And at least one member of Congress said the deal raised alarms about food safety, noting Shuanghui was forced to recall tainted pork in the past. "I have deep doubts about whether this merger best serves American consumers and urge federal regulators to put their concerns first," U.S. Representative Rose DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in a statement. Shuanghui is already majority shareholder of Henan Shuanghui Investment & Development Co , China's largest meat processor. It would join forces with a company that has a worldwide herd of 1.09 million sows, according to industry data compiled by Successful Farming magazine. *^*

“Shares of Smithfield, founded in 1936 as a single meat-packing plant in Smithfield, Virginia, rose as high as $33.96.Smithfield was in talks with two parties about a potential bid before the takeover by Shaunghui was announced, according to a source familiar with the matter. Bloomberg earlier reported Thailand's Charoen Pokphand Foods and Brazil's JBS SA had been preparing to bid for Smithfield when Shuanghui struck its deal, Neither CP Foods or JBS could be reached for comment. *^*

“In the town of Smithfield, which the local visitors bureau describes as rich in "hams, history and hospitality," officials said they were shocked by the news. "It was a total shock to us," said Smithfield Mayor T. Carter Williams, who noted that his wife has worked for the company for a decade. "Right now, I don't think anybody here knows what's going to happen...the people in China say nothing is going to change. We would hope so." The agreement comes after Continental Grain Co, Smithfield's largest shareholder with a 5.8 percent stake, agitated for change, including a call to break up the company.*^*

“Brian Bradshaw, a pig producer with operations in Illinois and Indiana who has sold hogs to Smithfield and its competitors, said the combination would boost U.S. pork exports. Still, he said he was worried about a foreign company owning Smithfield. "Long term, I think it's not good to have foreign ownership, but that's just the American part of me," he said. "I just think this is a move by China to make sure their population is going to get fed in a cheaper manner." *^*

“Shuanghui became embroiled in a scandal over tainted meat in 2011, when it was forced to recall its Shineway brand meat products from store shelves on fear that some of it contained a banned feed additive called clenbuterol. In that respect, the Smithfield deal may help quell Chinese concerns over the use of ractopamine, a similar additive commonly used by U.S. hog producers to bulk up animals with muscle instead of fat, without increasing the amount of feed. Smithfield has been trying to stop using ractopamine, which has been banned in China and Russia, an effort that could enhance its appeal as an exporter. *^*

Image Sources: Beifan http://www.beifan.com/, Louis Perrochon http://www.perrochon.com/photo/china/ , Nolls China webiste http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html except fruit seller, Julie Chao http://juliechao.com/pix-china.html , and fish market, Tropical Island, Dofu seller, All Posters http://www.allposters.com/?lang=1 Search Chinese Art

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2015

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