We’ve seen scares over plastic rice, fake eggs and artificial cabbage, but there’s a new supposedly fake foodstuff that social media is chewing over: fake beef. Thousands of people have shared a video online that they think shows the manufacturing process of this substance. In the video, factory workers add products to an elastic-looking material that has the coloring of raw meat. But the video doesn’t show what the people sharing it think it does.

"Be careful about what you eat. Fake beef (meat) made in China,” says the caption on this video, which has been shared since late October both by English-speaking and French-speaking people online. (Many of the latter are from francophone African countries). In the video, a worker tips a white product onto a dark red material that is rotating on a huge metal roller. The mixture, marbled dark red and white, looks a lot like raw beef.

 


The original post that garnered the video so much attention was published by a user in Malaysia. It was seen over 20 million times in only four days, before being deleted. (Here is a screen grab). The video was also posted on Weibo and QQ, two of the most popular Chinese social networking sites, in late September.

The video has often drawn comments that say that the Chinese want to “exterminate Africans”, and that urge viewers to eat local products instead.

Does this video really show fake beef being made in China?


Finding the source of this video, originally shared in Chinese, is quite difficult: there are few visual or auditory clues in the video itself, and a search of the video using online verification tools (check out our verification guide to find out how to do this yourself) just takes you to sites that say that it shows a beef manufacturing process, with zero proof.

But by taking a good few screen captures, and carrying out several searches using the ‘Similar images’ button on Google Reverse Image Search, we can start to gather a number of clues.

First of all, the same video, but longer, was published on Weibo, and actually ridicules those who believed the material was beef. We first see the original video, then afterwards a man cutting up bits of plastic into a shape like insoles. The colour of the material is very similar to that in the first part of the video, so for all we know, it could show the next step of the production process. But it’s impossible to confirm if the two scenes were taken at the same company, or where it was filmed, or even if the employees are the same.
 

In this video published on Weibo, a scene has been added showing a similar red material used in the making of insoles for shoes.


Another scene in this video shows exactly the same red and white material, with a man talking over it in Chinese, explaining that this is how rubber is created, by mixing these different products.

A YouTube search for "rubber mixing process" comes up with another video showing exactly the same process, carried out by the company Togo Hong Kong. We contacted this company to show them the video that purportedly shows fake meat. This is their response:

It’s not meat. This video shows the classic process for rubber production during the rolling out process, which turns the primary material into a thin kind of dough that is more malleable afterwards.

The added product is a chemical powder that makes it both more solid and more elastic. In our company, for example, we make joints for pipes with this kind of paste.”


In this video from the company Togo HK, we can see the red material mixed with a white powder that makes it look like meat at the beginning of the process.
 


Wild rumours about fake meat

Meat is often linked to Chinese counterfeiting. Food scandals in China are often used to spread false information by using images taken out of context.


In May 2018, rumours emerged of human flesh sold by Chinese companies in African countries, using images that actually showed pork sold as beef.

And it’s not just beef. Other types of meat get the same treatment: images purporting to show ducks filled with air to artificially increase their volume regularly do the rounds on social media. It’s actually the typical method for making the dish Peking Duck.

But does fake meat exist? It does, of sorts – the American company Impossible Foods manufactures plant-based substitutes for meat that look like the real thing, even bleeding like real meat. But it’s a product that is certainly designed to be eaten – and to taste good, too.


Article written by Alexandre Capron (@alexcapron)