BEIJING (NBC News) — Nearly half a billion dollars worth of smuggled frozen meat — including some which was more than 40 years old — has been seized in China, according to officials and local media.
More than 100,000 tons of smuggled chicken wings, beef and pork were recovered in a massive operation spanning 14 provinces, the state-run China Daily reported. The newspaper quoted customs officials as saying that much of the smuggled meat — valued at around $483 million overall — was beyond its expiration date.
The meat was seized in a massive crackdown aimed at breaking up smuggling gangs, one customs official told NBC News. Huang — an official in central Hunan province who insisted on only using his last name — said that 20 suspected gang members were arrested in the operation, the largest the province has seen.
“It was smelly, and I nearly threw up when I opened the door,” one Customs official told the China Daily of discovering rotting, smuggled meat in a container.
Officials in southwest China’s Guangxi province said some of the smuggled meat dated back to the 1970s, according to China’s state news agency Xinhua.
“To save costs, smugglers often hire ordinary vehicles instead of refrigerated ones,” one anti-smuggling operative was quoted as saying. “So the meat has often thawed out several times before reaching customers.”
It was not immediately clear where the smuggled meat originated or how it had been stored for decades.
Food scandals are a sensitive subject in China, where authorities remain on alert following the 2008 melamine scandal which caused the deaths of 6 babies and sickened 300,000.
Julia Zhou contributed to this report.