Chinese customs officials reported on Wednesday that they had seized 100,000 metric tons of frozen meat this month, after busting 14 smuggling gangs. Some of the meat was more than 40 years old.
Chinese authorities have launched a crackdown on beef and frozen meat smuggling, having toughened food safety rules in April to shake off a reputation for safety scandals.
Officials said they busted 14 criminal gangs by June, leading to seizures of meat including chicken wings, beef and pork, state news agency Xinhua said. In one bust, police in southern Hunan province arrested 20 people.
Some of the meat was rotten, the China Daily newspaper said. "It was smelly, and I nearly threw up when I opened the door," Hunan province official Zhang Tao told the paper.
Controlling the flow of meat
The China Daily said smugglers bought cheap meat abroad, shipped it to Hong Kong and on to Vietnam before bringing it to the mainland.
Yang Bo, deputy director of the anti-smuggling bureau in the Hunanese capital Changsha, said they would often transport the goods in ordinary vehicles, rather than refrigerated ones, to save costs.
China has been hit with a number of food scandals in recent years, including donkey meat tainted with fox DNA, and milk contaminated with industrial chemical melamine that killed at least six infants in 2008.
Around 800 tons were seized in the central province of Hunan, where two separate gangs were busted as part of a large-scale operation that finished earlier this month, Chinese media reported.
A report on the official Hunan propaganda website said that the meat seized locally came from the border area with Vietnam, where it was "difficult to control the flow of meat."
But the China Daily report did not specify the frozen meat's origin and the seizures were not reported on the website of China's General Administration of Customs.
Officials from Guangxi, a southern region bordering Vietnam, found some of the meat was "more than 40 years old." That would mean it was originally packed and stored when the country was still under the rule of Mao Zedong, Communist China's founding father, who died in 1976.
bk/hg (Reuters, AFP, dpa)