Chinese media reports that the government confiscated over 100,000 tons of meat, including one batch dating all the way back to the 1970s. Arrests and seizures were made in 14 provinces and regions across the country, and members of at least a dozen gangs of smugglers were involved.
“It was smelly. There was a whole truck of it. I nearly threw up when I opened the door,” Zhang Tao, an official who was involved with the operation, said.
The expired meat has been making its way to supermarkets in China, where it is difficult to tell how old frozen products are.
Smuggled meat’s risks are heightened by the way smugglers get it to markets. They transport the meat in unrefrigerated trucks, so that the meat thaws. Then, they re-freeze it for sale. “The meat has often thawed out several times before reaching customers,” one official explained.
Customs officials say that smugglers often soak the meat in hydrogen peroxide to make it look fresh and edible, although much of the smuggled meat remains infested with bacteria.
Chinese shoppers increasingly prefer foreign meat due to fears about local meat’s safety.
Experts in smuggling say that up to two million tons of beef have been smuggled into China in 2012 and 2013. That statistic does not include other kinds of frozen meat, such as chicken or pork.
Because it is becoming so prevalent, the recent trend of smuggling meat poses a massive health risk to the Chinese public, especially in the southern Hunan province where the biggest sting took place.
Officials discovered that the meat was being smuggled into China from India and the United States via Hong Kong and Vietnam. Now that the government has an idea of the routes smugglers use, they will likely be able to reduce the problem.
“The beef arriving in Vietnam was treated as re-export meat, so was charged the minimum tax rate—far below China’s level of import tax,” one industry insider told a Chinese media outlet.
In April, the government in Beijing initiated a crackdown on food safety precautions throughout China. The county has earned a reputation for being tainted by food safety scandals, especially since the 2008 incident in which baby milk was accidentally laced with an industrial chemical. At least six infants died.