BEIJING - China has seized thousands of tonnes of smuggled frozen chicken wings, beef and pork - some of it rotting and more than 40 years old.
More than 100,000 tonnes of meat worth up to three billion yuan (S$649 million) were seized, the China Daily reported yesterday.
"It was smelly, and I nearly threw up when I opened the door," said an official from Hunan province, where 800 tonnes were seized.
The government in Beijing toughened food safety rules in April to shake off a reputation for food safety scandals that range from donkey meat tainted with fox DNA to milk contaminated with industrial chemical melamine that killed at least six infants in 2008 as well as making thousands of people fall sick.
The authorities say they have busted 21 criminal gangs as of this month, state news agency Xinhua reported. In one raid, police in southern Hunan province arrested 20 people.
A report on the official Hunan propaganda website said the meat seized came from the "border area" with Vietnam, where it was "difficult to control the flow of meat".
Industry sources say hundreds of thousands of tonnes of beef are smuggled into China via Hong Kong and Vietnam, from countries such as Brazil and India, to sidestep Beijing's import curbs.
Meat can last for a long time if continuously frozen, but smuggled meat is often moved under poor storage conditions that lead to repeated thawing, making it eventually go bad.
"To save costs, smugglers often hire ordinary vehicles instead of refrigerated ones. So the meat has often thawed out several times before reaching customers," Mr Yang Bo, an anti-smuggling official in Changsha, is reported to have said.
Meanwhile, China's food safety watchdog has told three milk producers in central Shaanxi province to recall substandard infant milk powder, and urged the authorities to punish the firms severely if they break the law.
The China Food and Drug Administration said on its website on Tuesday that excessive nitrate had been found in five batches of milk powder products made by Shaanxi Guanshan Dairy and tested earlier this year.
Higher-than-standard levels of selenium were found in two batches of milk powder produced by Xi'an Guanshan Dairy and Shengtang Industry. All the products were made from goat's milk.
The watchdog said nitrate itself was harmless but could become toxic if it encountered particular kinds of bacteria. It said food safety regulators had yet to approve selenium as a nutrient suitable for use in infant milk formula.
Shaanxi Guanshan Dairy said it would recall the products, stop production and fix the problems.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS