HOHHOT – A slew of scandals involving the fraudulent substitution of beef and mutton with cheaper cuts of duck meat has put the spotlight on the illegal practice, with fears that it could be happening on a wider scale across the food industry.
The authorities in Hohhot city, capital of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, recently levied a collective fine of 270,000 yuan (S$51,000) on five food services contractors operating in a local college cafeteria, after analysis of food samples showed they had been passing off much cheaper duck meat as beef and mutton in their dishes since March.
A further 16,374 yuan was confiscated as “illegal revenue”, according to a penalty notice issued by Hohhot’s Yuquan district market regulator.
“The practice constitutes food service fraud according to the Law on Consumer Protection,” said the Sept 4 document, which was addressed to the Inner Mongolia University, a prestigious institution in the region.
In June, the market regulator received reports that four food stalls in one of the university’s cafeterias, as well as a Muslim canteen, were engaged in the fraudulent activities.
The market watchdog collected samples from the food service contractors involved and confirmed the complaints, according to China National Radio (CNR).
The university authorities severed ties with the contractors in early July, before the official investigation concluded, CNR added.
On Sunday, the college issued an apology to its faculty members and students, saying that more oversight was needed. It also pledged to increase the day-to-day monitoring of food quality and improve cafeteria services.
In an interview with CNR, an unnamed university management official said: “The mistakes were made by several contract food stalls, but the blame was on the college.”
The official acknowledged that the campus authorities had failed to properly supervise the contractors, and said they had taken over the operation of the food stalls from the contractors.
The meat scandal in one of China’s major pastoral areas has drawn widespread public anger, as beef and mutton are supposed to be cheaper and more readily available in this region than in other parts of the country.
The campus scam is the latest in a string of exposes involving food services fraudulently passing duck meat off as beef and mutton, which cost roughly three times the price of duck meat.
Banu, a hotpot chain, said on Thursday that it would refund a total of more than 8.3 million yuan to customers who ordered mutton rolls at one of its restaurants in Beijing’s Chaoyang district since mid-January.
The costly compensation came after an online influencer alleged that the mutton rolls sold in the Chaoyang restaurant contained duck meat, and urged the chain to conduct a third-party product analysis and publish the results. The chain complied, and found that the rolls involved were made of a mixture of mutton and duck meat.
“Banu is willing to spare no expense to compensate customers,” said a statement on the hotpot chain’s WeChat account, which has been viewed more than 100,000 times and received more than 1,000 likes.
In Hebei province, a branch of the Zhangliang Spicy Hotpot chain of restaurants was exposed by bloggers in August for selling “mutton” rolls, which instead contained pork and duck meat.
The chain said the restaurant involved did not know that the raw materials it had purchased were substandard, and pledged to strengthen the management of its supply chain.
Chinese Preventive Medicine Association expert Zhong Kai told a news website owned by China Central Television that duck meat visually resembles mutton but is cheaper, adding that duck meat carries no health risks and therefore is not banned.
A search on an e-marketplace showed that duck meat rolls processed with sheep fat sold for about 15 yuan a kg, while pure mutton rolls could cost up to 120 yuan a kg. CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
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