CHINA bred huge wild rats for centuries because of their “nutritional value” – before a ban put in place due to the coronavirus crisis brought the trade to a standstill.
Web users even celebrated “100 reasons to eat them”, after videos of people breeding and cooking the rodents became popular online.
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Farmers had been raising Chinese bamboo rats – believed to be a coronavirus carrier – and chefs had been cooking them in many different ways before the Covid-19 pandemic.
These huge rats can weigh up to five kilograms (11 pounds) and grow to 45 centimetres (18 inches) long.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, their meat can detoxify people’s body and improve the functions of stomach and spleen.
It is believed that eating bamboo rats was already common in the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256BC).
The rodents became particularly popular in China in 2018 when two young men started to upload videos of themselves breeding the rodents.
In the clips, they show viewers how to breed, butcher and cook the animals.
Bamboo rats can cost up to 1,000 yuan (£114) per pair alive or 280 yuan (£32) per kilo grilled, according to a forum for rat breeders.
On YouTube, Chinese chef and food writer Wang Gang, has published a video showing his viewers how to cook fried bamboo rats.
Since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December, experts have been trying to identify the source of the bug – with many believing it came from wild animals sold as food.
Some experts, however, have named bats, snakes or pangolins as the source of the virus.
Dr Zhong Nanshan, China’s leading epidemiologist, said the epidemic might be linked to the eating of bamboo rats or badgers.
In February, China’s top legislative committee banned all trade and consumption of wild animals temporarily following the outbreak of Covid-19.
At the time, it is believed there were about 25 million bamboo rats on various Chinese farms.
The southern province of Guangxi is believed to have a stock of 18 million rats, accounting for 70 percent of the country, according to China News Weekly.
Regional governments such as the Guangxi Poverty Alleviation Office have promoted farmers raising the rodents on small holdings, with as much as 120 yuan (£14) available in subsidies for each animal.
It is estimated that 20,000 people in China have been lifted out of poverty by breeding bamboo rats.
It is not sure yet if the wild animal ban will be permanent and which species will be affected.
However, Ma Yong, the deputy secretary of China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, believes the possibility of bamboo rats being allowed back on the dining table is slim.
Because the bamboo rat has only been domesticated for 30 years, there has not been adequate disease control research into the species.
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