In May 2016, social media posts and articles reporting that China was making corned beef with dead bodies and selling the products to Africa began circulating on social media, along with a series of photographs purportedly showing the morbid operation:
Different versions of the above-displayed post have been around for many years, with a variety of gruesome images purportedly showing dead bodies being made into corned beef. These photographs derive from a number of sources, but at least one of them was taken from a 2012 marketing stunt for the video game Resident Evil 6, in which a butcher shop selling fake “human meat” was set up at London’s Smithfield Market:
Capcom is sponsoring an art installation in East London. That sounds innocuous, except that said art installation is at the Smithfield Meat Market, and is called “Wesker & Son Resident Evil Human Butchery.”
Well, that’s certainly one way to get attention for next week’s release of Resident Evil 6.
The meat market is not, of course, selling actual human meat, but they are selling meat, mostly pork varieties, rather disturbingly shaped to resemble humans. Along with a variety of human ears, hands, feet, and heads, brave consumers can also purchase carefully recreated sausage fingers and, yes, phalluses.
This rumor was reported by several disreputable web sites which often truck in unverified or hoax “news” stories, such as TuneZNG, Information Hood, and Nairaland. Of course, none of these websites provided any evidence that China was actually making corned beef with human bodies, and didn’t explain the reason the misinformation was being shared with unrelated photographs.
The “foreign foods” trope is a common one, and so are hoax stories about China’s food industry. However, making any blanket assumptions or generalizations about China and its food industry is problematic and ultimately meaningless, because as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration itself points out, China is an enormous country with a wildly diverse array of suppliers and consumers:
Making generalizations about China’s food industry is difficult. Several thousand modern, large-scale, multinational and joint venture companies and farms that use best practices and sophisticated equipment operate alongside millions of small independent farms, workshops, and merchants that use crude equipment and techniques. China has some 200 million farming households with average land holdings of 1-2 acres per farm and at least 400,000 food processing enterprises, most with 10 or fewer employees. Millions of people and businesses are involved in the handling and transportation of food beyond the farm gate. The vast number of food suppliers increases the challenge of disseminating standards, monitoring production, and tracing problems to their source.