July 17, 2007 / 3:17 AM / 12 years ago

China officials deny flood rats on the menu

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese officials have denied media reports that truckloads of live rats rounded up near a flooded lake in eastern China were ending up in local markets and on restaurant menus in the south.

A farmer holds up a rat that he killed along the Dongting Lake in Yueyang, in central China's Hunan province, July 10, 2007. Live rats are being trucked from central China, suffering a plague of a reported 2 billion rodents displaced by a flooded lake, to the south to end up in restaurant dishes, Chinese media reported. REUTERS/China Daily

Newspapers reported that rats had been selling fast over the last two weeks in Guangzhou, capital of the southern province of Guangdong, coinciding with a 2 billion strong plague of rats fleeing rising waters in Dongting Lake in eastern Hunan province.

Since late June, local governments in Hunan have been grappling to contain the marauding rats which had destroyed 1.6 million hectares (6,200 sq miles) of cropland and stoked fears of disease.

He Huaxian, a disease control official in Hunan’s plague-afflicted Yueyang county, denied a report in Information Times which said that trucks loaded with live rats from Hunan were headed for a local Guangzhou market, the China Daily reported on Tuesday.

“It is difficult to catch rats alive, and it is even more difficult to catch them alive in such great numbers,” the paper quoted He as saying.

Wang Fan, a Guangzhou food safety official, also denied the report and said an inspection of a local market had found no evidence of rats for sale.

“The city government of Guangzhou has not lifted the ban against the trading and eating of wild animals, including rats,” the paper quoted Wang as saying.

Rats are considered a delicacy in Guangzhou, where people are reputed to eat anything that moves, but their sale was banned in 2003 as part of a general prohibition on wild animal consumption in the wake of the SARS epidemic.

“SUPER RAT RACE”

SARS is believed to have originated in Guangdong, whose residents’ taste for the exotic has been blamed for allowing the virus to transfer from wild animals to humans before eventually spreading across the globe, killing about 800 people in the process.

Near Hunan’s Dongting Lake, villagers were bracing themselves for a renewed attack of marauding rats with heavy rains forecast over the next two days, the Beijing News said.

Farmers had bought black-market pesticides to complement government-issued poisons to kill rats on their plots, the paper said, which had alarmed local officials and experts who feared environmental pollution and the development of a “super rat race”.

“Using this kind of banned poison has highly polluting effects on the environment, not only through secondary pollution on other animals, but also from toxic residue in the soil,” the paper quoted Li Bo, a disease control expert at the China Academy of Sciences, as saying.

“The frequent swapping of rat poisons can strengthen the rats’ immunity,” Li said, who called for more natural predators like snakes and weasels to rein in the rats.

Torrential summer rains across the country have fed floods and landslides that have killed more than 400 people, displaced more than 3 million and stoked fears of disease.

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