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City starts inspection as workshops accused of using mule, horse flesh

A citywide inspection has been launched in Hejian, the "home of the donkey burger" in Hebei province, after the discovery of hundreds of workshops making and selling fake donkey meat.

The city government announced the crackdown after an investigation by Beijing News found that many family businesses and companies have been using cheap cuts from mules, horses and pigs to make illegal products.

Restaurants and other businesses nationwide have been snapping up the fake meat at a cost of about 40 yuan ($6) a kilogram, less than half the price of real donkey meat, the paper reported.

Located about 200 kilometers south of Beijing, Hejian is famous for lyurou huoshao, a traditional snack of ground donkey meat in a baked wheat bun. The city is also a major source of donkey meat, particularly in northern China.

"Yet much of the donkey meat is not real. In fact, it"s made from the meat of mules, horses and even pigs, which is cooked together with food additives to make the meat smell like donkey," according to the Beijing News report.

Out of Hejian"s more than 300 family workshops, only a few have business licenses, and even some of them are producing fake donkey meat to ship to Beijing as well as Hebei, Henan, Shandong and Anhui provinces, the paper said.

The owner of one workshop, identified only as Zhao, was quoted as saying that about 20 metric tons of donkey meat are transported by three trucks each day from Hejian to Beijing, where the meat is then distributed to various restaurants.

Zhao said only 30 percent of the meat was real. "Ordinary consumers can"t tell the difference because it tastes just like the real thing," he added.

According to employees at other workshops, the mule and horse meat they use is imported frozen, while the pork is bought from Jiangxi and Shandong provinces.

On average, the cost of 1 kg of this meat is about 20 yuan. However, after being processed into fake donkey meat, it can be sold for at least 40 yuan, bring in a healthy profit, the paper reported.

The price for real donkey meat ranges from 96 yuan to 150 yuan per kilogram due to the time and complexity in raising donkeys.

Authorities in Hejian held an emergency conference on Monday to deal with the matter and launched a campaign to inspect every meat-processing workshop and company.

"Businesses operating without a license will be shut down immediately, and the people in charge will be punished according to the law," the city government said in a statement.

Officials who are found to have failed in their supervision duties will also face penalties, it added.