China’s appetite for bird’s nests boosts smuggling

Beijing, Dec 18 (IANS) As the cold, dry winter rip through China, consumption of edible bird nests has increased and this has boosted the smuggling of the lavish delicacy, a media report said on Friday.

At a stall in Shanghai’s Kaixuanmen market, one shop owner proudly boasts about his supply of edible bird nests. “Our nests are imported from Malaysia and only cost 10 yuan per gram,” he said.

But when asked to show certificates of origin or quarantine, the shopkeeper came up empty handed. Repeating the question at dozens of other shops selling the nests, only one was able to show proper health certification, the China Daily reported.

Others lack even basic details such as the date of manufacture or where it was produced.

“The legal imports cost at least five times of the current price. It is hard for you to find them in this market,” the shopkeeper said, not offering his name. Smuggled edible bird nests also known as cubilose costs between 6,000 yuan ($926) to 8,000 yuan per kg, while legal imports cost at least 20,000 yuan per kg.

Smuggled nests are also found online. Tens of thousands of shops offer them on online shopping sites, claiming they are imported from Malaysia, Indonesia or Hong Kong, but failing to show certificates.

China is the world’s largest consumer of bird nests, which is made of the secretion from the salivary glands of swiftlets. It has been used in Chinese cooking for hundreds of year and is often used in beauty treatments.

Highly sought after by elderly Chinese and pregnant women for its medical benefits, imported edible bird nests were banned in 2011 after health inspectors found excessive amounts of chemical nitrite in a shipment from Malaysia.

The country began allowing imports from Indonesia and Malaysia again in 2013, but tightened quality inspection and required detailed information to accompany the products.

Despite the nationwide crackdown, smuggled bird nests still end up on consumers’ plates.

Smugglers wrapped the nests in aluminum foil or in black plastic bag, which they thought would be undetectable to the port’s X-ray machines. Someone even hid them in bags of chips and biscuits.

If choosing a legal import channel, merchants must pay 17 percent value-added tax, not including fees for transporting and storage.

In order to make more money, merchants usually spray water or brush gelatine on the nests to increase their net weight prior to sale. But the practice can cause microbes to develop in the high-protein nests, which may lead to excessive nitrite that would fail an official health check.

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