When Chinese consumers buy a piece of beef, a quarter of the meat might actually be water.
Police in Loudi, a city in central Hunan province, have taken into custody 25 individuals who injected untreated water into live beef cattle at a local slaughterhouse. Sixteen of the suspects have been detained for producing and selling a “low-quality” product, China’s state broadcaster, China Central Television, reported Thursday.
The suspects said that they were able to inject more than 50 liters of water into a cow weighing around 150 kilograms, effectively increasing its weight by one-third, and that the process only took about five minutes. With the added water, the sellers were able to earn up to an extra 4,000 yuan ($580) per animal.
Video footage shot at the slaughterhouse at around 2 a.m. showed wranglers slip a rope around a cow’s head to restrict its movement, but still the animal struggled. Several minutes later, the cow seemed to relax. A man wearing glasses sliced open the animal’s belly, inserted a tube to suck out some of the blood, and then pumped in water by connecting the tube to a water pipe. During the whole process, the man massaged the cow to ensure that the water spread evenly throughout its body, which was visibly swelling.
After the five-minute procedure, other workers began butchering the cattle for sale. Because of the water injection, the cow’s body looked paler than normal, so the workers applied some of the siphoned blood to the animal’s skin to make it appear fresher and healthier.
The owner of the slaughterhouse told an undercover CCTV reporter that there were secrets to the water-injection process that ensured its efficiency. “You can’t open the tap fully,” he said. “You have to pump the water in slowly.” The owner added that the injected water came from a well the workers dug themselves.
The footage from the slaughterhouse shows filthy working conditions, with blood everywhere, cow viscera discarded on the ground, and a lot of waste water.
The police investigation, conducted in secret before the arrests were made, showed that around 10 people were on the premises most nights, and that the injections started between 2 and 3 a.m., with the butchered beef being transported to local markets early in the morning. The slaughterhouse’s unethical methods had apparently been carried out in secret for nearly two years.
Online, net users were furious not only for food safety reasons, but also for the cruelty of the water-pumping process. “These beef cattle have suffered so much! They can be eaten, but they shouldn’t be tortured,” wrote one user on microblog platform Weibo.
In recent years, China has been plagued by a continuous cycle of food safety scandals. In January, media reported that counterfeit seasonings were produced with recycled, industrial, and sometimes toxic ingredients by unlicensed manufacturers in northern China.
Editor: David Paulk
(Header image: Water-injected beef uncovered in Chongqing, May 4, 2001. VCG)