China : Production and underground sale of gutter oil

In July 2011, the Ministry of Public Security dismantled an enormous gutter oil industrial chain in 14 provinces in China, smashed 6 factories and sale terminals, and tracked down 2 illegal production lines and 100 tons of cooking oil made from gutter oil that was being processed for sale (CPG Bulletin, 2011). An entire chain, from raw material collection to use of reprocessed gutter oil, disappeared.

In China, an industrial chain “from dining table to dining table” of gutter oil production has been established (Fig. 1). The process is as follows. 1) Raw material collection: individuals collect different kinds of gutter oil, which is called “raw oil”, and then separate the oil from water, which is called “crude oil”; 2) Crude extraction: illegal workshops or lawbreaking traders purchase all kinds of “crude oil” from sellers, then create crude extract by filtration,
decolouring, dehydration, boiling, and removal of adulterants to obtain “fine oil”; 3) Deep processing: industrial oil refineries to refine the fine oil via multiple decolouration, dehydration, deodorization and condensation, to obtain “clear oil,” which is similar to cooking oil in sensory characteristics. 4) Wholesale: the “clear oil” is sold to local small factories or workshops for packaging. 5) Retail: sellers resell the oil to end consumers or restaurants. In some cases, some in
dustrial oil refiners package the oil, then sell it to retail outlets as legitimate oil. The industrial chain of gutter oil has multiple links, so convicting people in the different links is difficult. Merely modifying the raw gutter oil is illicit. However, deep-processing gutter oil may not constitute an offence because it can be used to produce rubber, soap and bio-fuel. The sale of gutter oil as cooking oil may constitute a crime, but this link is underground. Therefore, in China, there are many rumours about gutter oil processing, but cases are infrequently prosecuted.

Fig. 1. The industrial chain of production and sale of gutter oil in China.

Enforcing food safety laws and strengthening food safety supervision are the keys to food safety in China. The use of gutter oil has exposed the shortcomings of the food-safety assurance systems in the country. However the response of the Chinese government to this problem is rapid and effective. The Chinese government is showing a positive attitude to the gutter oil situation and has enforced food safety laws and regulations and reformed management systems to control the spread of this non-food item to improve food safety in China. The positive lesson of managing gutter oil may help improve food-safety supervision throughout China and other developing countries.

Md Ramim Tanver Rahman ( mrtrahman )

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