Chinese authorities have seized $480 million worth of smuggled frozen meat – some of it rotting and more than 40 years old.
More than 100,000 tons of smuggled pork, beef and chicken wings were discovered in a crackdown across 14 provinces by Chinese customs officials this month, reports Reuters.
In one instance, officers in Changsha, Hunan province, found 800 tons of smuggled frozen meat, including chicken feet and duck necks, at a local wholesale market, the South China Morning Post reported.
According to the Post, after arriving in Changsha, the meat was destined for dissemination to other parts of China, such as Guangdong, Sichuan and Chongqing, where it would be delivered to restaurants, supermarkets or be sold online.
The meat products are believed to have been bought very cheaply in foreign countries. It was then shipped through Hong Kong to Vietnam and finally transported into mainland China, according to ShanghaiDaily.com.
"It was too smelly! [There was] a whole truck of it. I almost [became ill] when I opened the door," one Customs official involved in the bust said in a report.
The customs agency said the meat products could pose a serious health hazard to consumers as they had not been properly inspected or transported.
"To save costs, smugglers often hire ordinary vehicles instead of refrigerated ones," one Custom officer was quoted as saying. "So the meat has often thawed out several times before reaching customers."
A Hong Kong Customs official said there was little the agency could do if goods were legally imported from overseas and exported from Hong Kong. The Post says Hong Kong customs had made various seizures involving frozen meat "from time to time," but all the seizures were of relatively small quantities.
This is not the first time China is facing a food-related scandal. In 2008, inspectors found that 13 percent of dairy firms had illegally produced melamine-tainted milk powder which killed at least six babies and made 300,000 people ill.
In April this year, China toughened food safety rules to shake off this reputation for safety scandals that has also included donkey meat tainted with fox DNA.