MEAT IN CHINA
There is a saying in China that you are lonely if you don’t eat meat. Vegetarianism traditionally has not been big in China but it has started to gain some traction in recent years arguable as much for health reasons as for love of animals. 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 and ten times as much as they did in the 1960s. Increased meat consumption has been closely linked to growing affluence of China. In the 1960s, the average Chinese person consumed five kilograms of meat a year. This soared shot up to 20 kilograms by the time of the Deng Xiaoping economic reforms began in the late 1970s and reached to 48 kilograms in 2015. [Source: Crystal Reid, The Guardian, March 9, 2021]
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 50 kilograms in 2007. Between the 1980s and 2000s, vegetable consumption by average Chinese decreased by 50 percent while the consumption of meat increased 81 percent and eggs 51 percent. 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 was expected to keep rising at a rate of 5 percent a year after that as disposable incomes rose and people could afford to eat more meat more often.
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 ^]
Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Eating China Blog eatingchina.com/blog ; Imperial Food, Chinese Government site china.org.cn; Wikipedia article on History of Chinese Food Wikipedia ; Chopstix chopstix.com ; Asia Recipe asiarecipe.com ; Chinese Food Recipes chinesefood-recipes.com : Food Tours in China, China Highlights China Highlights
Meat Eating in China
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. 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.
The most obvious manifestation of this desire is the popularity of wet markets and live animal markets. The biggest sellers are live chickens and other live fowl and birds. “We only buy chicken slaughtered in the markets to ensure that the meat is fresh, and it’s more delicious than the chilled variety sold in supermarkets, ” Rosie Luo, a student from Foshan city, Guangdong province, told Bloomberg. [Source: Bloomberg April 20, 2020]
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.
Wet Markets in China
Despite the rise of supermarkets since the 1990s, traditional markets where fresh meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, and other perishable goods are sold, known as “wet markets, ” have remained the most prevalent food outlet in urban China. Products sold in these markets are considered to be fresher and less expensive than in many supermarkets. According to a domestic industry report released in 2019, about 73 percent of the fresh produce purchased by Chinese households came from traditional wet markets, 22 percent from supermarkets, and only about 3 percent from online grocery stores. In these wet markets, unpackaged meat and live fish and poultry are common, while pigs, lambs, and cows are butchered in special slaughtering factories rather than on site. Many wet markets may be deemed unsanitary, especially in smaller communities, while there are well-managed and hygienic wet markets in and near bigger cities. [Source: Laney Zhang, Foreign Law Specialist, Library of Congress Law Library, Legal Legal Reports, August 2020 |*|]|
Although it is rare for Chinese wet markets to sell exotic animals, the practice has continued in poorly regulated sites, such as the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. There has long been a wildlife-eating culture in certain areas of China. Over the past three decades, consuming exotic foods has become a symbol of social status. In addition, in some of China’s impoverished regions, wildlife farming is an important source of income for people. Furthermore, traditional Chinese medicine has for centuries used various types of wildlife to treat human ailments. Scales of pangolins, for example, are used to treat conditions such as blocked breast ducts, rheumatoid arthritis, and poor blood circulation, despite no scientific evidence of effectiveness. As of 2016, China reportedly had a wildlife breeding industry that was worth an estimated 520 billion yuan (about US$74 billion) and employed more than 14 million people. These animals are used in various sectors, among them fur farming, which has the highest value, followed by food, medicine, tourism/pets, and laboratory research. |*|
Wet markets are largely regulated by local governments. However, in 2003, the central government’s Ministry of Health issued a regulation on food hygiene at marketplaces, which specifies sanitary requirements for wet markets and subjects wet markets to sanitary inspections by the government health authority. Under the Regulation, areas of wet markets dealing with livestock, poultry, and aquatic products must be separated from other areas by a distance of not less than five meters. Market operators must inspect the quarantine certificates of meat products entering the market on a daily basis. |*|
In addition, under China’s Animal Epidemic Prevention Law, wet markets trading in animals must meet the conditions for animal epidemic prevention laid down by the authorities, and are subject to the supervision and inspection by the government animal health supervision agencies. |*|
Wet Market in Sichuan
Melinda Liu wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “In Chongzhou, a city near the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu, the New Era Poultry Market was reportedly closed for two months at the end of last year. “Neighborhood public security authorities put up posters explaining why bird flu is a threat, and asking residents to co-operate and not to sell poultry secretly,” said a Chongzhou teacher, who asked to be identified only as David. “People pretty much listened and obeyed, because everyone’s worried about their own health.” When I visited New Era Poultry in late June, it was back in business. Above the live-poultry section hung a massive red banner: “Designated Slaughter Zone.” One vendor said he sold some 200 live birds daily. “Would you like me to kill one for you, so you can have a fresh meal?” he asked. [Source: Melinda Liu, Smithsonian magazine, November 2017]
“Half a dozen forlorn ducks, legs tied, lay on a tiled and blood-spattered floor, alongside dozens of caged chickens. Stalls overflowed with graphic evidence of the morning’s brisk trade: boiled bird carcasses, bloodied cleavers, clumps of feathers, poultry organs. Open vats bubbled with a dark oleaginous resin used to remove feathers. Poultry cages were draped with the pelts of freshly skinned rabbits. (“Rabbit meat wholesale,” a sign said.)
“These areas — often poorly ventilated, with multiple species jammed together — create ideal conditions for spreading disease through shared water utensils or airborne droplets of blood and other secretions. “That provides opportunities for viruses to spread in closely packed quarters, allowing ‘amplification’ of the viruses,” says Benjamin John Cowling, a specialist in medical statistics at the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health. “The risk to humans becomes so much higher.”
“Shutting live-bird markets can help contain a bird flu outbreak. Back in 1997, the H5N1 virus traveled from mainland China to Hong Kong, where it started killing chickens and later spread to 18 people, leaving six dead. Hong Kong authorities shut down the city’s live-poultry markets and scrambled to cull 1.6 million chickens, a draconian measure that may have helped avert a major epidemic.
“In mainland China, though, the demand for live poultry remains incredibly high. And unlike the Hong Kong epidemic, which visibly affected its avian hosts, the birds carrying H7N9 initially appeared healthy themselves. For that reason, shuttering markets has been a particularly hard sell. “China’s Ministry of Agriculture typically hesitates to “mess with the industry of raising and selling chickens,” says Robert Webster, a world-renowned virologist based at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
Getting a Chicken Slaughtered at a Chinese Wet Market
Melinda Liu wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “Officially, the live-bird markets in Beijing have been shuttered for years. In reality, guerrilla vendors run furtive slaughterhouses throughout this national capital of wide avenues, gleaming architecture and more than 20 million residents — despite warnings that their businesses could be spreading deadly new strains of the flu. [Source: Melinda Liu, Smithsonian magazine, November 2017]
“In one such market, a man in sweatstained shorts had stacked dozens of cages — jammed with chickens, pigeons, quail — on the pavement outside his grim hovel. I picked out two plump brown chickens. He slit their throats, tossed the flapping birds into a greasy four-foot-tall ceramic pot, and waited for the blood-spurting commotion to die down. A few minutes later he dunked the chickens in boiling water. To de-feather them, he turned to a sort of ramshackle washing machine with its rotating drum studded with rubber protuberances. Soon, feathers and sludge splashed onto a pavement slick with who knows what.
“I asked the vendor to discard the feet. This made him wary. Chicken feet are a Chinese delicacy and few locals would refuse them. “Don’t take my picture, don’t use my name,” he said, well aware that he was breaking the law. “There was another place selling live chickens over there, but he had to shut down two days ago.”
“Many Chinese people, even city dwellers, insist that freshly slaughtered poultry is tastier and more healthful than refrigerated or frozen meat. This is one of the major reasons China has been such a hot spot for new influenza viruses: Nowhere else on earth do so many people have such close contact with so many birds.
Live Animal Markets in China Reopen Despite Coronavirus
In April 2020, as the coronavirus was taking hold around the world, China was reopening some of the live bird markets in the south of the country because, local official said, local people demanded it. Bloomberg reported: “While live animal markets are suspected of being the source of the novel coronavirus and some other diseases, the authorities had no choice but to let them reopen because some people won’t buy their meat anywhere else. And that’s important in a year when people need a cheap alternative to pork, which is in short supply because of virus lockdowns and African swine fever. [Source: Bloomberg April 20, 2020]
“The agriculture ministry asked some provinces in March 2020 to reopen the live bird markets gradually to help poultry production recover. Eight provinces, including Guangdong, the top chicken consuming area, have done so, though most are still closed, according to an industry survey. A live bird wholesale market in the city of Dongguan, Guangdong province, resumed business then because the locals prefer live fowl instead of chilled meat, said an official reached by phone, without giving his name. Still, some local governments, including Fujian, Guizhou and Chongqing, have shuttered their markets indefinitely, according to local media reports.
“Most live bird markets will eventually disappear, but it will be difficult to shut down all the markets across the country, ” said Pan Chenjun, a senior livestock analyst with Rabobank. “In some rural areas where consumers have a strong preference for live birds, I would assume they might exist for a longer time.” The reopening of some markets could revive concern about their role in spreading disease from animals to humans. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. has shown that live poultry markets are a major source of human infection with avian influenza and their permanent closure should be considered to stop the occurrence of epidemics.
Pork in China
Pork is the most popular meat in China and pigs are the main source of protein in China as they are in Southeast Asia, and Melanesia. The Economist noted in 2014: “Pigs have been at the centre of Chinese culture, cuisine and family life for thousands of years. Pork is the country’s essential meat. In Mandarin the word for “meat” and “pork” are the same. The character for “family” is a pig under a roof. The pig is one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac: those born in that year are said to be diligent, sympathetic and generous. Pigs signify prosperity, fertility and virility. Poems, stories and songs celebrate them. Miniature clay pigs have been found in graves from the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). Historians think people in southern China were the first in the world to domesticate wild boars, 10,000 years ago.
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 cuts of meat 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.
Pork Consumption in China
China is both the largest producer consumer of pork in the world, making up around 60 percent of China's total meat consumption. Since China's farming industries were liberalized in the late 1970s, pork consumption rose dramatically. Chinese citizens consume more than twice as much pork as the global average. [Source: Adam Taylor, Washington Post, May 5, 2016]
China consumes about 100,000 tons of pork daily. The Chinese eat about as much pork per capita as Americans and collectively eat about half the world’s pork. David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “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 has, 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."
Pork Production in China
China is by far the world's biggest producer of pork and is home to about half the world's pig population with over 500 million pigs. That's about seven times more than the United States, the second-largest producer. 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]
It takes five months to a year to get piglets ready for slaughter. Populations have been growing and producers often can't keep up with demand and that produces inflation not in the food sector but often in the economy as a whole. One there was one such shortage an analyst at soozhu.com said 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."
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 ^]
High Pork Prices and the Importance of Pork to the Chinese Economy
In recent years, China's huge demand for pork has meant that the country's entire economy can be affected by changes in its price. 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]
The price of pork has a big impact on the public's inflationary expectations. 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.
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.
China’s Huge Stockpile of Frozen Pork
China's government is so worried about economic impact of pork shortages and price increases it maintains a strategic reserve of 200,000 tons of frozen pork and occasionally taps that secret reserve to increase supply. In 2016, the Beijing's municipal government releasing 2.75 million kilograms of frozen pork into the marketplace over two months to keep the price of pork down at a time when it had surged more than 50 percent the previous year. Officials expected prices to fall by around 18 percent as a result of the move.Adam Taylor wrote in the Washington Post: “It's the first time Beijing itself has gone through with such a plan, but China's attempts to control the pork market are nothing new. The importance of pork to China is hard to overestimate — and because of that, Chinese pork prices could have surprising ripple effects around the rest of the world, too.[Source: Adam Taylor, Washington Post, May 5, 2016; [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2011]
In 2007, when disease wiped out huge numbers of pig communities in China, the pork price surged by nearly 87 percent in one year. Pork prices became a major contributing factor in pushing the country's inflation rate to its highest levels in over a decade (some have even dubbed China's Consumer Price Index the "China Pork Index" because of pork's outsize influence on inflation). Food prices have been linked to civil unrest in the country, which clearly worries China's leaders. “In response to this and other worrying events, China decided to set up a national pork reserve in 2007, similar to how other countries maintain reserves of foreign currency, oil or grain. The reserve not only can release more pork at times of high prices but also take pigs from farmers at times of low prices.
“Of course, a strategic pork reserve sounds nice, but it's not entirely without its problems (even frozen pork won't last more than a few months). So China also began importing more pork from abroad, along with the feed crops to expand its own pig industry, intertwining Chinese demand for pork with the global market. In 2013, the Chinese firm Shuanghui International bought Smithfield Foods, an American company and the world's largest pork producer, in a $4.7 billion deal.
“Even with these measures, pork prices can still cause problems in Current pork prices are now above that 2011 peak even after the reserve announcement was made, and it's unclear that the government will really be able to help: Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report arguing that government attempts to buy pork when it got too cheap had "more of a psychological effect than an actual market impact."
Chicken in China
China boasts the world’s largest poultry industry, with about 14.2 billion domesticated chickens, ducks and geese. There are some large industrial scale farms with more than a million birds but most are kept on of small family farms. Guangdong produces a half billion chickens a year. A lot of them end up in Hong Kong. Most poultry was still grown in farmyard flocks, but reforms encouraged individuals and groups of households to invest in confined feeding operations. Egg output, especially, increased rapidly in the 1980s.
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. The Deda plant in northeastern China near the North Korean border processes 330,000 chickens a day. A million chickens are sold by the Daijan company (China's largest chicken farm) a week. They are raised in feeding sheds that hold 20,000 birds and are ready or slaughter 49 days after emerging from their eggs and are carried away by conveyor belts.
Yellow-feathered chickens are a favorite with people living south of the Yangtze River, Kong Pingtao, general manager at agriculture portal boyar.cn, told Bloomberg. They are used for soup, and well-known dishes, such as Baizhan chicken, where the meat is poached and served cold, and Yanju chicken, baked in salt. They are bred mainly in the southern provinces and sold mainly at live animal markets because they are smaller than regular chickens and present a challenge for modern slaughterhouses. [Source: Bloomberg April 20, 2020]
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.
Chicken Feet Trade Dispute in China
Phoenix talons 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 ]
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. 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. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, December 16, 2011]
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 Meat and Zombie Chicken Feet Sold in China
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.
Dan Levin and Crystal Tse wrote in 2015: The Chinese news media announced that the authorities had seized nearly half a billion dollars’ worth of smuggled frozen meat across China, some of it dating to the 1970s. The caches of beef, pork and chicken wings, worth up to $483 million, were discovered in a nationwide crackdown that spanned 14 provinces and regions, Xinhua reported. Typically, the meat was shipped from abroad to Hong Kong and then brought to Vietnam, where traders would smuggle the product across the Chinese border without declaring it to customs officials or going through required inspection and quarantine procedures. From there, criminals would often transport the meat in unrefrigerated trucks to save costs and refreeze it several times before it reached customers. “It was too smelly. A truck full of it. I almost threw up when the door opened, ” Zhang Tao, a customs administration official in Changsha, the capital of central Hunan Province, was quoted as saying by Xinhua. The authorities in Changsha seized 800 tons of frozen meat on June 1 and arrested 20 suspected members of two gangs. [Source: Dan Levin and Crystal Tse, New York Times, June 24, 2015]
“According to the Changsha Administration of Customs, one-third of the meat on sale at the largest wholesale market in the city was found to be illegally imported. While the origin of the smuggled meat was unclear, a report on the official Hunan propaganda department website said that the contraband had come from the border with Vietnam. “In the region of Guangxi, which borders Vietnam, customs officials found that some of the smuggled frozen meat “was more than 40 years old, ” according to The China Daily newspaper. Chinese officials did not explain where the meat originated or how it had been stored for almost two generations. After being refrozen, the meat was sold to retailers, supermarkets and restaurants across the country. China Central Television, the state broadcaster, showed workers in the southern city of Shenzhen repackaging the imported meat with Chinese labels, even though imported products, if legal, tend to be more profitable.
Eating Less Meat in China to Combat Climate Change?
In 2016, as part of its pledge to bring down carbon emissions, the Chinese government outlined a plan to cut the country’s meat intake by 50 percent. It was a radical move that even some of the world’s most green countries are not willing to take. Nathanael Johnson wrote in Grist” “Nobody in the United States paid much attention when the Chinese government released new dietary guidelines” in May 2016. “But hidden within them is a provision that could slash carbon emissions from livestock, according to the group Climate Nexus citing a forthcoming report from WildAid. China is saying something simple and straightforward, something that the US government has never been able to bring itself to say: Eat less meat. [Source: Nathanael Johnson, Grist, Business Insider, May 28, 2016]
“If 1.3 billion Chinese people follow the guidelines and eat just 200 grams of meat and eggs a day — instead of increasing their meat consumption as expected — it would prevent a lot of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere. And when we say “a lot” we mean on the order of 1.5 percent of global emissions. That’s like zeroing out Mexico’s carbon emissions every year.
“The Chinese dietary guidelines don’t say anything about greenhouse gasses, only about health. The government issued them as part of a campaign against obesity. Even so, in a statement responding to the news, food and climate expert Jonathan Foley underlined the importance of dietary changes. “Reducing our meat consumption — especially red meat — even a little bit can have profound impacts on the future of the planet, ” Foley said.
Crystal Reid wrote in The Guardian: “The new guidelines, which called on citizens to consume just 40-75g of meat a day, were promoted with a series of public information adverts featuring the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and director James Cameron. Since then there have been few other concrete steps taken”. In August 2020, President Xi Jinping launched a “clean plate campaign” aimed at reducing the “shocking and distressing” 40 percent of food that goes straight from Chinese dinner tables into the bin. Some commentators speculated that asking Chinese citizens to reduce their meat consumption was felt to be particularly unpopular. Alternative proteins are seen as a possible route forwards. In 2020 at the annual “two sessions” parliament, Sun Baoguo, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, called for more investment in and regulation and promotion of artificial meat. [Source: Crystal Reid, The Guardian, March 9, 2021]
Image Sources: Beifan, Louis Perrochon, Nolls China webiste http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html except fruit seller, Julie Chao , and fish market, Tropical Island, Dofu seller, All Posters 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.
Last updated September 2022