A crackdown on the illegal trade in smuggled frozen meat is being intensified after reports of expired and rotten supplies being brought into the country and served in restaurants. On Sunday, the China Food and Drug Administration, the Ministry of Public Security and the General Administration of Customs said they were stepping up their efforts to combat the smuggling of "zombie meat".
The action follows a report by a Xinhua News Agency correspondent in Hunan province that said customs authorities in 14 provinces and regions had broken up 14 criminal gangs involved in smuggling rotten meat. Officials were said to have seized more than 100,000 metric tons of such meat, including chicken wings, beef and pork.
The report said that in Changsha, Hunan, alone, local customs officials busted two gangs with a total of 20 members. The suspects were accused of smuggling frozen meat, and 800 tons of products with a street value of more than 10 million yuan (S$2.18 million) was seized, according to Xinhua.
The report attracted huge attention from the media and the public, and the number of Baidu searches that included the phrase "zombie meat" reached 24.8 million.
Zhang Tao, a senior official at the anti-smuggling department of the Changsha customs administration, said smugglers collude with foreign accomplices to purchase frozen meat at very low prices in a number of countries, including the United States. The meat is then sent to Hong Kong in refrigerated containers.
The consignments are transported via Vietnam to border areas in Yunnan province and the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, where they are divided up and processed. They are then delivered to restaurants and sidewalk snack booths in a number of small cities where supervision is ineffective, he said.
"During the long journey, the frozen meat is moved under poor conditions, often thawed or even refrozen after it has already gone bad, which poses serious health risks," Zhang added.
According to the General Administration of Customs, officers have investigated more than 140 cases involving the smuggling of frozen meat, including large quantities of expired and rotten products, since January.
Officers confiscated 420,000 tons of frozen meat, and all the products have been destroyed, according to the administration.
Spokesman Huang Songping said on Monday that officers will "conduct a thorough investigation into the smuggling of frozen meat, then take action against the sources, sales channels and a secret chain of criminal gangs involved in smuggling, refrigeration and transportation to prevent smuggled rotten meat reaching dinner plates".
The China Food and Drug Administration, the food safety watchdog, has urged local authorities to be on the lookout for smuggled meat. It told processors, storage businesses and catering companies to refrain from buying, keeping or selling meat that comes from unidentified sources.