AUSTRALIAN frozen meat has been implicated in a Chinese food smuggling crackdown, but authorities at home say it is difficult to verify the details of the alleged contraband.
A report in the China Daily last week gave an account of customs officials in the Chinese city of Shenzhen seizing a ship attempting to smuggle frozen goods into the country to avoid duties.
The 1800-tonne capture, valued at US$9.4 million, has been described as the biggest frozen goods smuggle bust by Shenzhen customs officials since the outfit was founded in 1997.
Authorities also detained five of the ship's 18-member crew.
Included in the smuggled 60-container load were beef, chicken wings and pork tripe from the United States, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, China Daily reported.
Customs officials said, according to the news outlet, that the goods posed a danger because they had not been inspected and quarantined, and that poor transportation conditions presented a potential food safety concern.
However, Meat and Livestock Australia's (MLA) South East Asia and China analyst Aaron Iori, said it was easy for Australian product to get caught up in smuggling operations across Asian borders.
"Often, the exporter at home has no idea where their product is going to once they sign it over to the buyer," he said.
"It may go through many different sets of hands after that before finding its way into some smuggling operation under the cover of darkness.
"I would doubt very much that this is Australian beef involved because we have legal access into China, but American beef is in high demand there and it's very easy to buy US beef in China wet markets, even though they have no legal way to export to China."
Mr Iori estimated that at least 500,000 tonnes of illegally traded meat crossed into China each year, mostly through Hong Kong, near the southern port city of Shenzhen, and through Vietnam.
"This trade is often referred to as the grey channel," Mr Iori said.
"It's not legal, but it's also very common and my guess is the Chinese in Shenzhen have gone on a crackdown and there could be a whole host of reasons for this."
The last highly publicised case of Australian product at the centre of a Chinese customs crackdown was in December 2010 when the government blocked imports of rock lobsters from Hong Kong into China.
This disrupted Australia's live rock lobster export trade and left live lobsters to pile up in tanks where they are caught in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.
Up to 80 per cent of Australia's live lobster exports are to Hong Kong buyers, lobster fishermen and exporters, who then routinely smuggle them onto the Chinese mainland to avoid payment of the relevant tariff.
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