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How Does Donkey Taste and Other Questions About a Chinese Meat Mixup

Wal-Mart (WMT) is recalling “Five Spice” donkey meat sold in some Chinese stores after it was found to contain fox meat. A consumer in Shandong Province who purchased 1,600 packs of what he believed were donkey and beef in late November brought the meat, produced by by Dezhou Fujude Food Co., to government inspectors because he thought it tasted strange for donkey. Fox is reputed to have a fishy flavor.

Wal-Mart said it will reimburse consumers who bought the meat and is now adding DNA tests to its sample tests of meat products in China. The provincial government has ordered a stop to sales of Fujude’s donkey meat. ”We are deeply sorry for this whole affair,” said Wal-Mart’s China president and CEO Greg Foran, according to Reuters. “It is a deep lesson (for us) that we need to continue to increase investment in supplier management.” Officials at Dezhou Fujude have been placed under criminal detention by local authorities, and Wal-Mart is also considering taking legal action against the responsible parties, the company said in a statement.

A news story about tainted donkey meat is likely to leave non-donkeyvores dizzy with questions. Here are some answers to help.

Is it common to eat donkey in China?
Depends where. Meats like pork and chicken are more widespread but in some parts of China donkey is a common snack or sandwich meat.

How much donkey do Chinese consumers eat?
About 2.4 million donkeys were slaughtered in China in 2011, according to Reuters.

What about fox meat in the Chinese diet?
It’s also a niche meat in China. According to a Chinese media report, there’s a potential risk that parasites in fox meat can pose health risks to humans, adding a safety component to the donkey-fox mixup.

Where else do people dine on donkey?
You will find donkey meat on the tables of Italy, France, Nigeria, and according to writer Matthew Fort, throughout the early 20th century in Britain as well. And let’s not forget the 80,000 metric tons of horse eaten in Europe annually.

What does donkey taste like?
Donkey meat is tough and can have a strong smell, though bizarre food enthusiast Andrew Zimmern told NPR’s StateImpact: “You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between it and veal, except that it’s better than veal. It is fantastic, absolutely delicious.”

How do you prepare a donkey dish?
In northern China, at least, a “burger” made of shredded donkey meat is a popular street food. It’s also used in sausage (like salami in Italy) or stews.

How does this compare to other recent meat mixups?
The horse meat fiasco in Europe is fresh on our minds, but counterfeit meat is a more common problem in China. In early 2013, police in China arrested 904 people for meat-related crimes such as passing off rat and fox as beef and mutton. The investigation resolved 382 cases—mainly the sale of toxic, diseased, and counterfeit meat—and led to the seizure of more than 20,000 tons of illegal products, as Xinhua News reported.

Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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