Is a Suspended Death Sentence Enough for a Chinese ‘Gutter Oil’ Dealer?

Netizens demand harsher punishment for the mastermind of an $8 million "gutter oil" scheme after string of food-safety scandals in China

  • Share
  • Read Later
AFP / Getty Images

Police inspect illegal cooking oil seized during a crackdown in Beijing on Aug. 2, 2010

“Gutter oil” is one of the most revolting substances in the culinary pantheon. It sprang from the ingenuity of Chinese entrepreneurs, who fished out used cooking oil from drains, sewers and trash cans, decanted it into fresh bottles and sold it to an unsuspecting public.

On Jan. 7, the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court in eastern China handed out a suspended death sentence to a mastermind of one of the largest gutter-oil schemes ever recorded, worth more than $8 million in illicit sales. (A suspended death sentence usually means the convict escapes execution if no further crimes are committed.)

(MORE: 10 Reasons Not to Go Locavore in China)

Seven others were sentenced to between five and 15 years in jail for the cooking-oil deception, according to state newswire Xinhua. In China’s lively microblog sphere, a slim consensus felt that the gutter-oil judgment was not harsh enough. Wrote one outraged person: “Criminals involved in food-safety issues should be sentenced to death and immediately executed.”

Gutter oil not only induces mental queasiness but it can also be laced with carcinogens. Its emergence is just one of many food scandals to befall China in recent years, as law enforcement has struggled to match the resourcefulness of unscrupulous traders. Every week brings news of a tainted or fake product, from deadly infant formula to glow-in-the-dark meat.

Just this week, abattoir workers in southern China were nabbed for injecting up to 6 kg of filthy pond water into each lamb carcass in order to bulk up its weight — and therefore price — at market. Last week, Walmart admitted that five-spiced donkey-meat treats sold in some of its Chinese stores were tainted by the addition of fox flesh. (Donkey is a common enough protein in northern China, but fox is not widely consumed.) Last fall, aficionados of skewered meat in Shanghai discovered the lamb they were savoring was actually rat.

(MORE: Waiter, There’s Fox in My Donkey Meat: The Global Scandal of Food Fraud)

The latest gutter-oil plot sprang from the minds of three brothers in eastern Shandong province, according to Xinhua. Beginning in 2006, the trio began selling dirty cooking oil to 17 dealers in two highly populated provinces. In October, in eastern Jiangsu province, a man was condemned to life imprisonment for using inedible animal fat, along with chicken feathers and fox fur, among other unusual substances, to bulk out the cooking oil he sold to more than 100 companies.

These convictions are part of a nationwide crackdown, with even state officials admitting the severity of China’s gutter-oil problem. Food-safety regulations have been tightened repeatedly since 2009. “Before in China, the punishment for violating food safety was very minor,” says Zheng Fengtian, a professor at the School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development at Renmin University in Beijing. “You would just pay some fine and that would be it, so the cost of committing food-safety crimes was too low.”

But Zheng says there still is no nationwide standard on what constitutes safe cooking oil. Still, because of the current crackdown, he believes gutter oil is a waning phenomenon in Chinese kitchens. Zheng’s bigger concern is the widespread use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers in modern Chinese agriculture, with little oversight. “The issue of the origins of a food source will be a bigger problem for us to solve,” he says. Little wonder that food-safety concerns are among the top reasons given by Chinese who have recently quit their homeland for what they hope are cleaner pastures.

— With reporting by Chengcheng Jiang / Beijing

MORE: Growth Chemical Leads to Exploding Watermelons in China

53 comments
smartermind
smartermind

It is not just China. They routinely inject poultry with water in Holland and Europe. Recently we had the scandal of horse flesh being sold as beef and lamb and there are cases of pork being injected or introduced in other meat products. Was anything done about this by the authorities in the UK? Nothing, the bug supermarkets got off Scott-free. Not even a suspended sentence!

Lucas Bavaresco
Lucas Bavaresco

the proof is in front of your eyes. read the package inserts of the things you eat, drink, of the medicine you take, of the vaccines, etc.

George Saiz
George Saiz

thats how chinese get so rich compared to americans.. they make money on anything & everything especially here in usa

George Saiz
George Saiz

dirty food eating has been around for thousands of years

Thomas Crotzer
Thomas Crotzer

If animals matter morally at all, we can't justify inflicting *any* suffering or death on them without necessity. None. www.WhyVeganism.com

Noah Winkler
Noah Winkler

Same they also use that's oil and they don't even know it ...

Brian Xue
Brian Xue

That's why you don't go to restaurants. You go to the bao zi shop right down the street and buy fresh made foods.

Pho Ko
Pho Ko

A lot had been sent to Myanmar .

Patri Magu
Patri Magu

I like that the issueis was addressed... hate it is happening.

Iosif Constantin Liliac
Iosif Constantin Liliac

I would like to see proof of your claims. and GMO does not mean what you think it means.

David Wilson
David Wilson

Do not orget GMO's , tap water in a bottle , junkfood empires , etc .

David Wilson
David Wilson

I dont get these people , this type of oil could have been used for car-fuel or burning fuel purposes .

Erica Welsh
Erica Welsh

...and we are sending our chickens there to be processed, to then be shipped back to us for consumption...

inv.namit
inv.namit

Chinese have a very big problem in balancing their food habbits and controlling the food scandals....  this is just disgusting

Harmony Marbella
Harmony Marbella

Its not really safe to eat Chinese food product, very scarry

jurgensgc
jurgensgc

That why i only eat fresh veg no oil no margarine by boil eat diy everything i eat i grow my self

Charlyn Hewitt Belcher
Charlyn Hewitt Belcher

A wealthy Chinese investor purchased Smithfield Hams of Smithfield, VA. There is a huge shortage of ham in China and the investor will make millions. He says the US practices will not change but everyone in our area knows better. This news is scaring everyone.

Kulinski John
Kulinski John

No safety regulations exist in China so they brought this on themselves !!!

Zhiyang Yung Chen
Zhiyang Yung Chen

Xien Yu welcome to CHINA, bring your own food and store your own air.

Natalie K Ng
Natalie K Ng

not enough: has to get rid of that oil as well

Anne Aprim
Anne Aprim

That's what happens when you have too many people to feed.

Stephen Jantuah
Stephen Jantuah

If this is what they are supplying to their own compatriots, I'm wondering what are in the products they export to Africa where checks are mostly relaxed. Our governments must sit up.

Ly Le Tran Nguyen
Ly Le Tran Nguyen

Many Chinese people and Chinese politicians would be willing to die for money.

Sherwin Browne
Sherwin Browne

I wud luv 2 no what d hell made d 1st person think 2 make oil out of sewage!

Noah Winkler
Noah Winkler

The restaurants are also involved they know the origin but it's cheaper !! I lived in China for 6 years they don't care about it and will never do. I hope they will go back where they belong ....

Kevin McCormick
Kevin McCormick

If you are killing people with gutter oil, then why should you get a suspended sentence?

bijutoha
bijutoha

Gutter Oil That means full expatriated oil not to use totally . I don't know how is this possible to use it as a people > 

How is rude ! some time it is essential that a people is going to leave to make others life in danger. Alas I am from Bangladesh and here in this country everything we are taking to live maximum on them are Gutter , Adulteration.Formaldehyde, Methanal. Alas .............................

Fran Humpage
Fran Humpage

I'll stick with the Theakston's steak and ale pie please!

SirRichard Gunn
SirRichard Gunn

GMOs Used In Products Below Baby Food ~ Genetically Engineered Ingredients Nabisco (Phillip Morris) -Arrowroot Teething Biscuits -Infant formula Carnation Infant Formulas(Nestle) -AlSoy -Good Start -Follow-Up -Follow-Up Soy Enfamil Infant Formulas (Mead Johnson) -Enfamil with Iron -Enfamil Low Iron -Enfamil A.R. -Enfamil Nutramigen -Enfamil Lacto Free -Enfamil 22 -Enfamil Next step (soy and milk-based varieties) -Enfamil Pro-Soybee Isomil Infant Formulas (Abbot Labs) -Isomil Soy -Isomil Soy for Diarrhea -Similac(Abbot Labs) -Similac Lactose Free -Similac with Iron -Similac Low Iron -Similac Alimentum

Harrison Joshua Cande
Harrison Joshua Cande

Should China and the United States not work together in the long term on a rover to land on Jupiter's icy moon Europa? It has active oceans beneath its frozen tundra! Perhaps life! Would this not immensely progress Sino-American relations?

Lucas Bavaresco
Lucas Bavaresco

Exactly! That's why there are also sterelizers, acids and fat in general in our children's mash. It's also a very important habit that we give our babies water with fluor, which is present in most big cities' water supply chains, that attacks the immune system which allows easier contamination. Vaccines too.

Karla Amoré
Karla Amoré

At least we don't make poisoned infant formula!

Harrison Joshua Cande
Harrison Joshua Cande

One reason why I like China: There are so many ways to imagine helping people!

Lucas Bavaresco
Lucas Bavaresco

but of course this food safety problem isnt present here in the west, right? i mean the fact that most prepared foods and bottle water have sterelizers, acids that attack our immune system and colesterol which gives us heart attacks is totally not a problem, right? after all only 30% of the western population is obese, eh?

smartermind
smartermind

Are you for real?  They are not going to declare on any inserts that the meat is contaminated by sewer fat, rat or whatever !!!

smartermind
smartermind

So do you with a sweeping racist comment like that!

Eric_G
Eric_G

Yep, assume all chicken nuggets are now unsafe, time to learn to make our own!