Chinese customs have uncovered a smuggling ring responsible for bringing over eight tonnes of meat through Hong Kong, some of which dated from the 1970s and 80s.

The frozen chicken, pork and beef was distributed to restaurants and snack stalls across 14 Chinese provinces. Dubbed “zombie meat” by the Chinese press, much of the products originated from areas of India affected by foot and mouth disease, and were pumped full of chemical additives to keep them looking fresh.

According to suspected smugglers arrested in the Chinese city of Chongqing, the main destination for the “zombie meat” is the innumerable hotpot restaurants located in southwestern metropolis made famous by its spicy cuisine.

As Chinese authorities cracked down on Brazilian beef from 2012, India has become the main source of meat smuggled into China. In 2009 India exported just 610,000 tonnes of beef, but by 2014 this had risen to 1.9 million tonnes, eclipsing Brazil’s 1.7 million tonnes and becoming the biggest beef exporter in the world.

Hong Kong - Mong Cai - Nanning
Hong Kong – Mong Cai – Nanning. Photo: Google Maps

Vietnam is the main destination for India’s beef exports, but much of that is actually sent north of the border to China. Because the meat arrives in Vietnam as goods in transit, taxes imposed are far lower than what they would be in China.

Whereas importers pay RMB21-24 for every kilogram of beef brought into Vietnam, the cost in China would be more than double that at roughly RMB56-58 per kilogram.

Largely porous and unguarded, the border between Vietnam and China forms a part of the infamous Golden Triangle; but drugs aren’t the only illicit items shuttled across national borders. As China’s appetite for meat continues to grow, so do the potential profits awaiting these “zombie meat” mules.

Photo: CFP

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick is an award-winning journalist and scholar from Hong Kong who has reported on the city’s politics, protests, and policing for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, TIME, The Guardian, The Independent, and others