While European supermarkets and fast-food chains have been dealing with the fall-out of horse meat in burgers, a meatpacking factory in north-east China has been found using cheap duck meat and additives to replace mutton and beef slices.
According to the Xinhua news service, police seized more than 50 tonnes of products at the Shengtai Meat Processing Plant in Liaoning province.
Duck meat was steeped in mutton fat and other additives to lower the cost of production, a statement posted on the Ministry of Public Security’s website revealed. Samples of the tainted meat products were also found to contain levels of nitrite to the tune of 8.69g/kg—ingesting 3g of sodium nitrite can kill an adult.
The factory had sold some of its meat to small restaurants in the area, and so far police have recovered most of the products, the ministry said. Thirty-four people have been detained.
"The factory has a legitimate licence, but they do underground production. They are very cunning," said a provincial spokesman. "We have gone to the factory many times during the past two months but didn't find any violations."
Xinhua cited a worker at the plant who did not want to be identified who said it halted production about a week ago. Police have blocked entry to the plant, although there have been no reports of consumers being poisoned by the fake meat.
The scandal has had a wider impact on the regional meat industry, with business dropping sharply for suppliers at a time when meat is traditionally in great demand.
Market traders in Liaoning have even seen their sales of meat slices fall from an average of 50kg per day to 20kg a day. And some hotpot restaurants, which serve the region’s local winter delicacy, have reported a 20% drop in customers since the scandal broke.
Hou Shuisheng, an animal nutrition professor with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told the Beijing Times it is not easy for consumers to recognise fake meat products when duck meat is substituted.
"There is no obvious difference between duck, mutton and beef in their appearance. With the use of mutton fat, they taste almost the same," he said.
At present, nitrite can be used as a food additive in meat processing as a preservative. "But since the chemical may cause cancer, there should be stricter government supervision of its use," he said.