Skip to main content

China's tainted meat scandal explained

By Zoe Li, CNN
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0712 GMT (1512 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Expired meat was repackaged and sold to fast food chains in China
  • McDonald's is the only brand that will continue to work with the meat supplier
  • China has 2,000 McDonald's branches across the country
  • China's food safety law is currently being revised

(CNN) -- McDonald's restaurants in many Chinese cities have been eerily quiet this past week.

The fast food giant is enormously popular in China where it has 2,000 outlets, each one typically overflowing with hungry crowds.

But many McDonald's addicts have been forced to go cold turkey as numerous branches have yanked flagship burgers off the menu amid a tainted meat scandal.

The food scare broke when a video surfaced in Chinese media last week, showing appalling practices in a Shanghai food-processing factory that supplies ingredients to many international restaurant brands.

Since then, the tainted meat supply has been found to reach across China, all the way to Hong Kong, and even to Japan.

Food safety scare in China
Dog meat festival in China sparks outrage

How was the scandal uncovered?

A reporter from a Shanghai broadcaster secretly filmed inside the food processing plant of Shanghai Husi Food, a subsidiary of U.S.-based food supply giant OSI Group.

The footage captured workers handling food with their bare hands. Several scenes showed them picking up meat that had fallen on the floor and returning it directly into the processing machine.

One worker, his face concealed behind a surgical mask, turned to the camera and stated, "foul meat," referring to the meat being handled.

Shanghai Municipal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) subsequently investigated the factory and found that expired beef and chicken products were processed and repackaged with new expiration dates.

Amongst the tainted products, they were able to trace forged production dates on more than 4,300 cases of smoked beef patties, with more than 3,000 cases already sold.

Who was affected?

Husi had been supplying chicken and beef products to branches of McDonald's, Papa John's, Burger King, Starbucks, KFC, and Pizza Hut in several cities in China.

READ: China scare snares Burger King, Papa John's

Since the scandal broke, all the brands have cut ties with Husi's parent company OSI Group, except for McDonald's.

The golden arches will continue to work with the food supplier in China, eventually shifting to a Husi food plant in Henan province, which was described as the "newest state-of-the-art facility" by OSI CEO Sheldon Lavin.

McDonald's has worked with OSI for more than half a century internationally, and for more than 22 years in mainland China, a spokesperson surnamed Xu told CNN.

Meanwhile, beef and chicken products at most McDonald's in northern and central China are unavailable. Branches in southern China, which use a different meat supplier, are largely unaffected.

Xu also said the products will slowly return to menus after August 3.

In Hong Kong, McDonald's previously stated that it does not use products from Husi. It later backtracked the claim after local government issued a ban on the import and sales of Husi products.

As a result of the ban, chicken nuggets, chicken filets, as well as several vegetable products and iced lemon tea are now temporarily unavailable at the city's McDonald's branches.

Japan's McDonald's have also been affected as 20% of the meat for chicken nuggets there were supplied by Husi. It has since stopped importing chicken from China and introduced a tofu and fish version of the McNugget.

The scandal has led to "negative impact on sales and consumer confidence," the company's Japanese unit said in a statement. "Our sales and profit expectations have been reduced."

READ: Meat scandal takes a bite out of McDonald's sales in Japan

Who was held responsible?

Although no one has fallen sick as a direct result of the tainted meat supply, Shanghai's FDA has closed the Husi plant at the center of the scandal, and detained five employees for questioning.

Meanwhile, Shanghai's top official has pledged to mete out "severe punishment" for anyone involved in the incident, China Daily reported.

OSI Group is conducting its own internal investigation, promising "swift and decisive action" against those responsible.

It has also announced a number of organizational changes that it says will better ensure food safety at its China subsidiaries. This includes taking the previously separate and decentralized China operations and shifting them under the global management umbrella.

It will also launch an Asia Quality Control Center in Shanghai and a three-year, RMB 10 million ($1.6 million) food safety campaign.

Is China doing enough for food safety?

Food safety has long been a top concern for China, affecting domestic and foreign companies.

In 2008, a major scandal erupted over tainted infant formula that killed several babies and left thousands more ill.

Earlier this year, Wal-Mart recalled donkey meat after it was found to be contaminated with fox meat.

Yum Brands, the owner of KFC and Pizza Hut, has just emerged from a food safety scandal that began in late 2012.

The latest Husi scandal comes amid a revision of China's food safety laws.

Earlier this month, the National People's Congress released a draft version of the law on its website, seeking public opinion. It promised harsher punishment for offenders.

"Over past years, punishment for food safety violators has been increased but it still lags far behind that in developed countries. There should be much higher punishment for offenders," an anonymous industry insider told China Daily.

CNN's Serena Dong contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
A smuggler in Dandong, a Chinese border town near North Korea, tells CNN about the underground trade with North Korean soldiers
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 0654 GMT (1454 HKT)
Yenn Wong got quite a surprise one morning earlier this month when she found out an exact copy of her Hong Kong restaurant had opened in China.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0315 GMT (1115 HKT)
When I first came across a "virtual lover" service on e-commerce site Taobao, China's version of Amazon, I thought it was hype.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Each year Yi Jiefeng does what she can to stop China turning into a desert.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1454 GMT (2254 HKT)
As its relationship with the West worsen, Russia is pivoting east in an attempt to secure business with China.
October 8, 2014 -- Updated 0229 GMT (1029 HKT)
Aspiring Chinese comics performing in Shanghai's underground comedy scene hope to bring stand-up to the masses.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Liu Wen is one of the world's highest-paid models and the first Chinese face to crack the top five in Forbes' annual list of top earners.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Cunning wolf? Working class hero? Or bland Beijing loyalist? C.Y. Leung was a relative unknown when he came to power in 2012.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
 A man uses his smartphone on July 16, 2014 in Tokyo, Japan. Only 53.5% of Japanese owned smartphones in March, according to a white paper released by the Ministry of Communications on July 15, 2014. The survey of a thousand participants each from Japan, the U.S., Britain, France, South Korea and Singapore, demonstrated that Japan had the fewest rate of the six; Singapore had the highest at 93.1%, followed by South Korea at 88.7%, UK at 80%, and France at 71.6%, and U.S. at 69.6% in the U.S. On the other hand, Japan had the highest percentage of regular mobile phone owners with 28.7%. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
App hopes to help those seeking a way out of China's overstrained public health system.
October 3, 2014 -- Updated 0020 GMT (0820 HKT)
Yards from pro-democracy protests, stands the Hong Kong garrison of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's armed forces.
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
The massive street rallies that have swept Hong Kong present a major dilemma for China's leadership.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0707 GMT (1507 HKT)
Chinese wine drinkers need to develop a taste for the cheap stuff, not just premium red wines like Lafite.
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0109 GMT (0909 HKT)
The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, set off a media kerfuffle this month when he spoke about his next reincarnation.
September 28, 2014 -- Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
He's one of the fieriest political activists in Hong Kong — he's been called an "extremist" by China's state-run media — and he's not old enough to drive.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 0257 GMT (1057 HKT)
China has no wine-making tradition but the country now uncorks more bottles of red than any other.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 0929 GMT (1729 HKT)
Christians in eastern China keep watch in Wenzhou, where authorities have demolished churches and removed crosses.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 0538 GMT (1338 HKT)
Home-grown hip-hop appeals to a younger generation but its popularity has not translated into record deals and profits for budding rap artists.
ADVERTISEMENT