China Cracking Down on Gutter Oil

Police in China have detained 32 people in a nationwide crackdown on “gutter oil“, or illegally recycled old kitchen oil. The campaign is part of an attempt to clean up China’s food safety record following several scandals, such as the deadly infant formula and pork tainted with clenbuterol, a forbidden chemical used to make pork leaner. The Ministry of Public Security in China said in a statement on its website that police have seized 100 tons of the harmful oil in 14 separate provinces.

Six workshops were closed down including one that was operated by Jinan Green Bio Oil Co., a business which claimed to be turning kitchen oil into fuel but that was actually churning out recycled cooking oil which it passed off as safe and new oil. Recycled oil usually contains carcinogens and small traces of aflatoxin, a deadly mold.

The statement said:

“Not only did we destroy a criminal chain that was illegally turning gutter oil into food oil, we also unveiled the greed of the criminals and pulled back the curtain on the immoral acts of those producing this poisonous and harmful food oil…”

Last year, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, said businesses using recycled oil would be forced to temporarily close or lose their business licenses and that the peddlers who sold the oil are now liable to be criminally prosecuted.

Chinese consumers in recent years are horrified by a series of food safety scandals, such as fish treated with cancer-causing antimicrobials, eggs colored with industrial dye and fake liquor which can cause death or at least blindness. Infant formula and milk and laced with the industrial chemical melamine has reportedly been the cause of death of six Chinese schoolchildren and has sickened 300,000 in 2008. The government has responded by enacting an increasingly tough food safety law in 2009 which promised harsher penalties for makers of tainted products.

Austin Ramzy of Time Magazine writes:

The gutter oil crackdown is just part of a broader effort to control China’s continuing food safety worries. As we wrote earlier this summer, the crackdown has been making headlines with more than 2,000 arrests. But such strike-hard tactics are only part of the equation, and cleaning up the food chain in China will require sustained effort. As food safety expert He Dongping noted last year in an interview with the China Youth Daily, it might take ten years before the country cleans up its gutter oil problem. That’s hardly reassuring for Chinese consumers.

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