Buying Meat – with a Watery Bonus!

Question

Shmelke wishes to open a meat-processing business. From his investigations
he has learned that it is common practice to inject significant quantities
of water into meat before freezing it. In addition, phosphates and other
chemicals are added to certain types of meat products (mince etc.). These
processes increase the weight of the meat and consequently, its price!
When a person buys a piece of meat, he is really receiving a significant
amount of water with the meat! What can justify such a practice? The
manufacturers argue that the customer only pays for the meat. Were no
water to be added, the price of the equivalent weight of meat would rise
drastically. Shmelke wishes to know if he can follow this practice and, if
it is permitted, how much water may he add?


Answer

Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpot 228:19) tells us that it is
forbidden to add dregs to wine. Even if wine was strained, the dregs which
were extracted may not be returned to the wine. The Sema (229, Note 10)
explains that to leave the dregs inside the wine would have been
permissible, since this waste matter is an intrinsic part of the wine.
However, once they have been extracted, they are considered as extraneous
matter and may not be added to the wine. It would therefore seem to follow
that in our case adding extraneous water, which never formed part of the
meat, is definitely forbidden.
However, the Shulchan Oruch writes in
Paragraph 16 of the above chapter that a merchant may take produce from
several sources and mix it together. Since all are aware that the merchant
did not grow the produce himself and purchases from several sources, they
do not expect that all he has on sale is of the same quality, etc. He
would not be permitted to deliberately mix a small amount of
inferior quality produce into top quality goods in order to mislead
customers into thinking that all the produce is top quality. From
here we see that what is known to all is not considered deceitful and is
fully permitted. By the same token if people are generally aware that
water and phosphates are added to meat, there is no problem in following
this practice. Similarly, if the product is clearly labeled as containing
a specific proportion of water, this is permissible. If official
regulations permit addition of a certain percentage of water,
manufacturers are automatically permitted to add that amount – but not a
drop more! It is assumed that purchasers understand that such a quantity
of water may have been added.
However, manufacturers are certainly not allowed to
add water whatever amount they please. Wishing to keep the price down does
not excuse deceitful practices. Adding water to frozen meat may be an
accepted practice (minhag). One could therefore argue that all purchasers
automatically forego their right to receive pure meat, without any
additions. However, the Shulchan Oruch (232:17) states clearly that
when a person foregoes his rights (mechila), he must be aware of
the precise amount that he is foregoing. Otherwise, such mechila is
invalid – and the merchant is guilty of deceit! We can therefore
conclude that Shmelke would be permitted to add water to the meat that he
sells if this is standard practice and the amount is either fixed by
regulations or clearly stated on the packaging.