Fake claim about Chinese restaurant selling rat meat has been circulating for 15 years

The claim: An Atlanta Chinese bistro was closed for selling customers rat meat

As COVID-19 spread across the globe, racism against Chinese Americans has spread across the country, and stereotypes are making a comeback.

“Better Stop dinning with Chin… A popular Asian/Chinese restaurant bistro in Atlanta was closed down this morning after authorities received a tip that the owner was accepting shipments of rats and mice from a vendor to prepare in his dishes,” a Facebook user posted on July 24. USA TODAY reached out for comment.

“The owner and his wife were arrested early this morning and charges are not known at this time. After a full search of the kitchen, authorities found, packaged rats, mice, kittens, pups… So Now U KNOW ! Bon Appetite,”read the caption alongside an image of rat carcasses.

This claim, and others like it, has circulated since the early 2000s. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now.

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Consistently rated false for 15 years

Snopes debunked this claim in January 2005 after an email chain with identical text caught its attention in 2004. Right-leaning news outlet The Epoch Times also rated the claim false after investigating it in May 2014.

Snopes and the Associated Press have debunked similar claims about rat meat from China being sold as boneless chicken wings. Food and Drug Administration spokesman Peter Cassell told the AP that the story and its attribution to the FDA were incorrect.

The Food and Drug Administration outside Washington, D.C.

In an email to USA TODAY, Cassell said that hoax and the Atlanta bistro claim are similarly harmful.

“This is not true and stories like this are dangerous and misleading,” Cassell wrote.

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Public health authorities say the story is false

Nancy Nydam, director of communications at the Georgia Department of Public Health, told USA TODAY that the story was false.

Georgia Department of Public Health’s Food Service Rules and Regulations mandate that food be honestly presented “in a way that does not mislead or misinform the consumer.”

USA TODAY could not find any reports of an Asian bistro selling rat meat by any of Atlanta’s major news outlets.

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Image is from a feeder rodent seller

Reverse image search of the photo on the Facebook post leads to a Florida feeder rodent website. Premium Rodents sells mice, rats, quail, rabbits, chicks, crickets and worms to reptile and bird owners – not to restaurants.

The site uses the same image to sell frozen furry rats in a vacuum-packed 25 pack.

Premium Rodents has yet to return USA TODAY’s request for comment.

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A delicacy across the world       

Racist stereotypes surrounding Chinese consumption of what Americans may consider exotic foods have plagued Chinese Americans since early Chinese immigration during the gold rush in the 19th century.  

In some areas of China people do eat rats, but that doesn’t mean American Chinese restaurants are secretly feeding their patrons rat meat.

Historically, rats have been, and continue to be, a beloved delicacy in many parts of the world including: China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, India, Ghana, Vietnam, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Philippines.

A 2013 criminal meat fraud bust in China flamed racist narratives about Chinese food and restaurants. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security arrested 904 suspects for misrepresenting the fox, mink, rat and other meat they sold as lamb and failing to test for quality and safety. That criminal ring did not involve American restaurants or food suppliers.

Our rating: False

No Atlanta Chinese restaurant has closed down for serving customers rat meat. The Georgia Department of Public Health has confirmed that a story about an unnamed restaurant, which has circulated for more than 15 years, is not true. We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by our research. 

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Atlanta Chinese restaurant did not sell customers rat meat