The measures have been enacted “so that consumers and ordinary people can eat beef without worry”, according to the local daily. “This follows anger among consumers, who are paying high prices for beef which is in fact inflated with water.” Cattle from Xinyu rural areas, mostly of the local Luxi and Bohai Black breeds, are slaughtered locally for sale in wet markets as well as trade with regional cities like Shanghai. Consumers in Xinyu are also worried that meat wholesalers and “unlawful businessmen” are injecting meat with dirty water and coagulants, according to the Xinyu Ri Bao.
Food safety has become a problem for China’s meat sector as rogue operators have attempted to cash in on sharply rising beef prices, which have been rising by up to 40% a year in some of China’s key urban centres. Several scandals have hit China’s beef industry in the past year, with pork, coloured with chemicals, passed off as beef in the westerly city of Xi’an. The injection of water into cattle and meat is a practice that has reared its head in many parts of China: the China Meat Products Integrated Research Centre explained in a 2012 research document how farmers were forcing water into the stomachs of pigs and cattle while water is also being forced into the animals’ hearts post-slaughter.
In its efforts to improve food safety in the beef industry China has championed several model beef companies. A large halal firm, which also ranks as one of China’s largest beef processors and cattle feeders, the Yili Yuan Halal Meat Co in Shandong, has invested RMB40m in a traceability system that, the company claims, allows it to trace meat to the “mother and father of each animal as well as its feed and when and how many injections they’ve had”. Installed in 2012, the system also includes a series of cameras in each of the firm’s slaughterhouses – footage which it shares with the national and provincial ministries of science as part of an innovation project. “It means more cost and less profit for the company, but it puts consumers at ease,” company chairman Yang Zhenggang told Hexun, a popular Chinese financial news website.
Contamination of beef causes additional religious sensitivities, given China’s beef industry has traditionally been centred around its large Muslim population – indeed it exports significant amounts of halal-certified packaged meat products such as jerky. The province of Shanxi paid a RMB300 per person subsidy to local Muslim minorities to enable them to purchase meat in the run-up to the recent Chinese new year celebrations.