An ongoing Yunnan court case involving an edible oil company is growing more bizarre and disgusting as it enters its third week. What originally began as an investigation into using recycled food oil has transformed into a series of indictments over the production of thousands of tons of potentially harmful cooking oil.
Fourteen executives of Qujing-based Yunnan Fengrui Oil Company (云南丰瑞粮油有限公司) stand accused of knowingly manufacturing and distributing toxic food products. Over a ten-year period the company allegedly sold 32,000 tons of 'cooking oil' in Yunnan — much of it consisting of industrial and commercial waste, CCTV is reporting.
Investigators say they have uncovered Fengrui receipts documenting the purchase of discarded waste oil from industrial lubricant and lard processing facilities in Guangdong.
Other waste oil, originally destined for pig feedlots, was reportedly purchased in Jiangsu, Shandong and Sichuan provinces, as well as in Kunming's Guandu district. The materials were purportedly shipped to Qujing where they were combined with actual cooking oil in unregistered factories.
Oil produced in this manner was sold across Yunnan under the brand names Golden Cauliflower (金菜花) and Lucky Elephant (吉象). CCTV reporters estimate the amount of these products sold was enough to supply 1.5 million consumers with cooking oil for a year.
Lab tests of oil samples taken from the Qujing factories found high levels of the organic compound malondialdehyde. Although the compound occurs naturally in both sunflower and palm oils, elevated levels in the human body have been linked to diabetes, osteoporosis and is possibly carcinogenic. The Qujing oil samples contained levels two times higher than those allowed by Chinese food and drug laws.
Cooking oil recycled from waste is pejoratively referred to in Chinese as digouyou (地沟油), or gutter oil. The Qujing case is not the first time a large-scale operation of this sort has been uncovered in Yunnan. In 2011 a factory in Anning was closed down for making 50 tons of gutter oil from rotten animal entrails.
The problem of gutter oil is so rampant that the national security apparatus began a campaign in 2011 to stamp out the "four black pests" (打四黑除四害) — black workshops, black factories, black markets and black gambling dens. According to the CCTV report, Chinese police have investigated 1.3 million cases of gutter oil production in 250,000 illegal factories over the last 18 months.