Forget Horsemeat -- Now Rat Is Masquerading as Lamb!

Move over, horse meat. There's a new fake meat in town.

First, it was horse meat masquerading as beef, so burgers were out. Then news came that bird flu can be caught from uncooked poultry. Now, news of another meat scandal has rocked China's Jiangsu province.

Because of the avian flu outbreak in China, food safety concerns are already running high. Choosing lamb to avoid contaminated chicken seemed like a safe bet. But it wasn't; not by a longshot.

Police in China have uncovered a massive crime ring that has been selling rat meat (and other small animals) as lamb in markets throughout cities like Shanghai and Jiangsu province. Officials seized more than 20,000 tons of the mislabeled meat. I shudder to think just how many rats it takes to make 20,000 tons. Though I’m kind of terrified of finding out the answer, it does beg the question, “Where did they get so many freaking rats?”

The 63 suspects in custody are accused of selling more than $1.6 million worth of the rat-and-sundry meat. Considering rats’ market value (i.e. none), we’re guessing that’s a pretty hefty profit margin.

According to reports, the alleged criminals used common food additives like red food dye, gelatin and nitrates (basically, what you’d find in your processed lunch meat) to make the rats look more like mutton. (No worries on being hoodwinked the next time you order a lamb chop --the Chinese government created a handy explanation, complete with pictures, on how to tell the difference between rat and lamb). 

Though all of these food scandals seem to be limited to other parts of the world, it almost makes you want to turn to hunting, doesn’t it?

The world’s food supply seems to be getting trickier to navigate. Just a few months ago, a report found that one-third of the fish you buy at restaurants and markets is not what you think it is. Call it a bait and switch. This isn’t just bad news for your pocketbook, because you’re paying higher prices for cheaper types of fish (farmed salmon was found to be posing as wild), it can have health implications as well. Red snapper, for example, is often rockfile, tilapia or tilefish (a species that is on the do-not-eat list for its extremely high mercury levels).

According to The New York Times, restaurant deception isn’t limited to fish. Some eateries have been known to serve pork cutlets as veal or regular greens as organic. Because restaurants are especially hard to police, the only thing you can do in this case is try to be a savvy diner. If the price seems to good to be true (all-you-can-eat sushi, anyone?), it usually is.

But, hey, at least you can console yourself about one thing  -- it’s not rat meat. We think.

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