“As soon as we learned that Dezhou Fujude Food Company, a supplier in Jinan, China, had produced and provided Walmart China and other distributors with donkey meat containing fox DNA, [we] immediately withdrew and sealed all products from this supplier,” the company said in a statement.
“In addition to compensating customers who bought the product, which is a popular delicacy in China, Walmart is actively supporting the industrial, commercial and food safety authorities in their investigation.”
It is understood that officials at Dezhou Fujude have been arrested by authorities in eastern Shandong province, while Walmart is also considering taking legal action against the company.
“While this appears to be an isolated incident to select stores in China, our customers’ trust is paramount for our business and we are deeply sorry for this incident,” the statement added.
The scandal could harm Walmart's reputation for quality in China's US$1tn food and grocery market, where it plans to open 110 new stores over the coming years. The country is the largest grocery market in the world and is expected to grow by a further 50% by 2016, according to the Institute of Grocery Distribution.
The company, however, has been seen to go beyond local testing requirements, and its discovery of fox DNA in the donkey sample is an example of this vigilance.
In addition to requiring its suppliers to adhere to Walmart’s food safety requirements it has over the last year strengthened its random, species-specific testing programme of products containing animal protein.
Wal-Mart said it had set up an investigation team to look into the incident and would strengthen food safety rules.
"We are deeply sorry for this whole affair," said Wal-Mart's China president and CEO, Greg Foran. "It is a deep lesson [for us] that we need to continue to increase investment in supplier management.”
Donkey meat is consumed as a popular snack in some areas of China, although it only accounts for a small percentage of overall meat consumption. In 2011, the country slaughtered 2.4m donkeys, according to country's livestock industry yearbook.
Given the spate of food quality and safety scandals over recent years, it is as yet unknown what sort of impact this latest incidence will have on Walmart in the long-term, although users of Twitter-like social network Sina Weibo seem to be split between support of the retail chain and criticism of it.