Water-Injected Meat: The Next Chinese Food Scandal?

The Wall Street Journal’s China Blog reports on another potential food hazard in China that has been going on for decades, as reported in “The Southern Weekend,” a relatively liberal newspaper within China’s media:

The latest open secret may be the practice of injecting meat with water to raise the weight (and hence value) of the product. This week, Feng Ping, a CPPCC delegate and expert at the China Meat Products Integrated Research Center, publicly challenged the lack of government oversight that has allowed the practice to go on for over 20 years, according to the Chinese-language Southern Weekend. (An English summary of the report, from Shanghai Daily, is available here).

According to the report, the practice, in its more gruesome-sounding forms, involves either forcing water into the stomachs of pigs and cattle shortly before slaughter, or injecting water into the hearts of recently slaughtered animals, so that the water will quickly flow into the animals’ flesh through the blood vessels. Another method involves simply soaking chunks of meat in water to absorb the liquid. The practice was developed in the mid 1980s by entrepreneurial slaughterhouses in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou after the government ended its monopoly on meat purchasing. Since then, the practice has spread to other parts of the country. Much pork and practically all beef has been treated by water injection, the report says. (In the U.S., water content in meat is regulated by food safety officials, and the issue has surfaced elsewhere in the West– see here and here for examples).

But what’s the harm of a little water? According to Southern Weekend, many experts say water injections in meat pose far greater risks than clenbuterol, a banned steroid used to increase lean meat production, which sickened 70 people who ate tainted pork in Guangzhou last month. Watered meat is less nutritious, spoils more easily, encourages toxin-producing bacteria, and the practice can spread disease among animals. Other unappealing chemicals and antiseptics may be added, and the water may even contain industrial waste.

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