China's Latest Food Scandal: Fox-Tainted Donkey Meat

Walmart has yanked the compromised meat, a venerated dish in parts of the country.

According to one Chinese expression, donkey meat is heaven on earth. Until, that is, it's revealed as fox meat. (SKsogang/Flickr)

As if a nasty bribery scandal in Mexico was not enough to deal with, Walmart is now embroiled in a fox-meat scandal in China. Over the holidays, I watched Fantastic Mr. Fox, and now just can’t help but imagine Walmart CEO Mike Duke exclaiming, “Those feisty foxes!”

According to a Chinese saying, “In heaven there is dragon meat, and on earth there is donkey meat.” But it has to be pure donkey meat, straight up.

Messing with heaven on earth, Walmart’s China operation has apparently sold and now recalled fox meat-tainted “five spice” donkey meat and created quite a headache for the global retailer. According to Reuters, the Shandong Food and Drug Administration reported that DNA tests conducted on samples of the Walmart-sold donkey meat showed that the product included fox meat.

While we in the West may chuckle at this story, donkey meat is a big deal in China. Here is a bit of context from The Silk Road Gourmet’s Laura Kelley:

Donkey meat is also available in Beijing, Shanghai and most big cities in between, but Gansu is the epicenter of donkey cuisine and where the most delicious dishes can be found. I sampled several donkey dishes, but by far the most delicious was the Donkey with Yellow Noodles (lurou huangmian) [I] had in Dunhuang….

The meat is tender, sweet and delicious. It tastes nothing like pork or beef. For obvious reasons, it does taste a little like horse, only it is sweeter and more tender, and like horse and many hoofy game meats it is also low in fat and high in protein. In addition to tasting good and being a healthy meat, it is also, very inexpensive, which I am sure adds to its popularity. The strips of charchuterie donkey meat for dipping are a little plain, the sandwiches and burgers are too ‘bready’ and the starch interferes with the great flavor of the meat … but for this wandering girl, the donkey with yellow noodles was just right. Another thing I like about the dish, was that it was a very “Asian” way to enjoy the dish.

Yum. After Kelley’s description, I’d try some. Now I better understand the frustration in China over fox meat getting mixed up in such tasty cuisine. According to Reuters, Walmart has promised to investigate the incident and strengthen its food-safety compliance. The company has also issued an apology over the Twitter-like platform Weibo.

This isn’t the kind of story one reads every day, though it’s certainly more familiar in China than in many other places. In recent years, consumers there have been regular targets of rat, fox, and mink rings trying to pawn off these meats as beef and mutton.

A hat tip to the Quartz Daily Brief for sending this delicious morsel my way.