THE expensive Kobe beef on the menus of many Japanese restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing is either fake or smuggled, according to a China Central Television report.
At some restaurants, reporters found beef on menus that was much costlier than the ordinary variety - priced at between 2,000 yuan and 3,000 yuan (US$321-481) per kilogram.
Although the wording "Kobe beef" couldn't be found on the menus, waiters assured the reporters it was authentic Kobe beef, or at least beef imported from Japan.
However, when a waiter and an owner at one restaurant were questioned by officials from the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration in an inspection, they denied that the beef had come from Japan, saying it was either from China or Australia, the CCTV report said.
In the restaurant, the inspectors later found invoices backing up what the waiter and the owner said. However, most of the restaurants they checked failed to provide invoices proving where their beef came from.
While some of the "Kobe beef" was fake, some was, indeed, imported from Japan, the TV report said.
However, because China has banned the import of beef from Japan since 2001 when cases of mad cow disease were found in the country, any genuine beef had been imported illegally, CCTV said.
The report said that two people who tried smuggle beef from Japan to Shanghai to sell at local restaurants were being investigated by authorities. The pair were seen with six cases near a luggage carousel after the arrival of a plane at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport from Narita in Japan, the report said. But, realizing they had been spotted, they ditched the cases and quickly left the airport.
Inspectors X-rayed the cases and found they were packed with beef weighing more than 160 kilograms.
The beef would have fetched an estimated 300,000 yuan if sold to Japanese restaurants, they said.
The beef, which had evaded quarantine inspection, could be a risk to health if it got onto restaurant menus in the city, experts said.
Luggage labels had been torn up, making it hard to track down other people involved in the illegal trade, officials said.
CCTV said that the lure of huge profits and the low penalties - fines up to 5,000 yuan - meant that it was hard to wipe out the trade in smuggled Japanese beef.