Crackdown on pretend Kobe beef

Updated: 2013-02-05 02:47

By Wang Zhenghua in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Shanghai says no evidence exists to show that delicacy is being sold in municipality

The food safety watchdog of Shanghai vowed to crack down on unqualified meat after inspectors found that the costly Kobe beef sold by some Japanese restaurants turned out to be locally grown or imported from Australia.

In a telephone interview with China Daily on Monday, the Shanghai Municipal Food Safety Commission Office director Yan Zuqiang said there is no evidence that Kobe beef, a delicacy produced in Japan's Hyogo Prefecture but banned from being imported to China because of mad cow disease, is being served or consumed in the city.

"They (restaurants) are bragging and deceiving. They have been given penalties and the beef was seized," Yan said. Imports of beef produced in areas affected by mad cow disease, including Japan, are strictly banned, he added.

The Shanghai Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau said on Monday that cases of smuggling beef products from Japan have dropped in recent years.

Kobe beef is known for its flavor, tenderness and well-marbled fatty texture.

A recent investigation by China Central Television found that some restaurants in Beijing and Shanghai claimed they served the meat and tagged it at more than 2,000 yuan ($320) per kilogram in their restaurants.

Several of them, including Ryotei Kabuki and Trattoria Yamatoya in Shanghai, told CCTV reporters who pretended to be ordinary customers that they served the beef imported from Japan and sold it for up to 880 yuan for a small portion.

But during later inspections, inspectors found these products are from cattle raised in China or Australia, CCTV reported, and products without proper credentials to show their sources are confiscated.

Ryotei Kabuki and Trattoria Yamatoya, the only two restaurants identified in the CCTV report, remained open for business on Monday.

Official figures showed that the smuggled beef products intercepted in Shanghai have dropped from a peak in 2007, when 3.4 metric tons were intercepted in 37 shipments, to 535 kg in the first nine months of 2012.

In the recent crackdown, inspection officials at Shanghai Pudong International Airport intercepted 159 kg of frozen beef when checking luggage of a flight from Tokyo on Jan 24.

According to the CCTV report, the owners of the luggage dropped their six cases and escaped after inspection officials became suspicious.

A spokesman at the Shanghai Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau said on Monday that they were still tracking the two men and the confiscated beef will be destroyed.

Smugglers have become more skillful, the spokesman said. For instance, they now use smaller containers, such as backpacks and trolley cases, to ferry the products, and sprinkle large amount of coffee in their luggage to confuse sniffer dogs.

The carriers of the smuggled meat are largely middle-aged Japanese men, the spokesman said. Sometimes Taiwan people were also found carrying the contraband meat.

To curb the smuggling of Japan-produced beef, experts called for more severe penalties on smugglers and education of consumers who are unaware of the risks of meat produced in epidemic regions.

Shen Fujun, a law professor at East China University of Political Science and Law, said that rather than only issuing fines, legislators should consider criminal penalties for habitual violators.

Li Xinzhu contributed to this story.

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