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Rat Meat For Dinner? Chinese Consumers Revolted


Mmmmm, braised rat. No, it’s not a delicacy in China, though Chinese consumers may have been eating it unknowingly. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security announced late this week that a gang of rogue meat traders has been arrested for buying rat, mink and fox meat, dousing it in gelatin, red pigment and nitrates, and passing it off as mutton in Shanghai and Jiangsu Province. They were said to be raking in $1.6 million for their efforts.

The sting operation was part of a broader effort by Chinese authorities to crack down on food safety problems across the country. Since January of this year, police have reportedly arrested over 900 individuals and have closed over 1700 illicit factories and shops.

Consumers, however, are not placated. The New York Times reported this brilliant bit of exasperated snark from an anonymous Chinese wag in its story from earlier this week:

“How many rats does it take to put together a sheep?” said one typically baffled and angry user of Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblog service that often acts as a forum for public venting. “Is it cheaper to raise rats than sheep?”

It’s easy to get caught up in the big stories about big international problems in Asia, but we lose sight of what it’s like for the billions of people struggling to build better lives in a rapidly modernizing society. China has a real challenge on its hands—the thousands of dead pigs and ducks floating down Shanghai’s rivers earlier this year was the most grotesque and visible manifestation of what is clearly a widespread problem.

An important step on the road to China’s modernization will have to be the development of a set of modern standards of food safety and regulation. This isn’t a trivial problem to solve, even in the West. The US still suffers from outbreaks of salmonella infections, and the recent horse meat scandal across the EU shows that shenanigans occur even in the most highly regulated societies.

Regardless, Chinese authorities are going to have to do more than just crack down on lawbreakers after the fact. As China grows richer and more sophisticated, and more and more people gain access to services like Sina Weibo, these kinds of lapses will become increasingly difficult to dismiss or sweep under the rug.

[Rat photo courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Corlyss Drinkard

    Revolted? I thought they ate anything and everything as long as it was cooked in peanut oil.

  • JT

    Felt this appropriate back ground music for the article ~

    “Rat in mi Kitchen”

    On a more serious note – I believe this kind of practice has been going on for a good while. At least according to Chinese mainland friends in the past, that worked in the food industry, they tended to be afraid of much of the food grown and raised in their country.

  • Anthony

    Comprehensive standards of food safety and regulation subsumes both capacity and intent – beyond developing coastal areas and cities (Billion plus citizens).

  • Jim Luebke

    We should email a copy of “The Jungle” to every address in China.

    I’m curious, though, whether Sinclair’s “Socialism will solve everything!” propaganda would be seen as a hilariously funny joke, or if it would undermine the credibility of the important parts of the narrative.

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