Inspectors can only control eight percent of the 11,500 slaughterhouses in 12 northern major cities and provinces, according to Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu. Even in some controlled slaughterhouses, officials approve hygeine standards while pigs are slaughtered on floors covered with blood, fur and feces, Thu said at a conference on poultry and meat management on Sunday. The officials have also been known to approve meat sold at local markets in spite of its unknown origins, he said. Last week local media reported on smugglers in the Phu Xuyen district of Hanoi who collect rotten limbs, tails and bones of cattle from local illegal slaughterhouses where between 400 and 500 sick or already dead cattle are processed a day. The smugglers then transport the rancid products by passenger bus to Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s biggest market, the report said. One of the smugglers told the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper that he bribes officials to approve his illegal products. Smugglers in Ho Chi Minh City also reportedly collect rotten cattle, pig and chicken products from China and have set up a network distributing them to small restaurants, street vendors and food companies. They use motorbikes to distribute their cargo, to avoid it being confiscated by authorities. In neighboring Dong Nai province, smugglers buy dead or sick chickens from local farms for 6,000 dong per kg, butcher and sell them for 16,000 dong. The eateries then sell the roasted chicken for 100,000-120,000 dong. Le Minh Chi, deputy head of the Veterinary Department in Dong Nai, said it is hard to crack down on illegal slaughterhouses because owners regularly change location. Officials and police are working together to raze places where sick and dead pigs are collected and butchered, he said. In the first six months of this year officials in the Thu Duc district of Ho Chi Minh City seized more than 40 tons of rotten meat smuggled into the city for human consumption, according to official figures. “Some people buy even when they are sure the products are not safe,” one official said. The Food Safety and Hygiene Department reported that 67 outbreaks of food poisoning with 2,225 victims were recorded in the past three months; 13 died. Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Cao Duc Phat laid the blame for illegal meat products squarely with the officials. If the country’s 20,000 health inspectors did their best, rotten meat would no longer be sold at markets, he said.
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