32 people have been arrested in China in connection with a scheme in which oil was illegally collected from restaurant gutters and then resold.
According to The Wall Street Journal, China's Ministry of Public Security issued a statement Tuesday saying that "officials seized 100 tons of the recycled oil, which can contain carcinogens and other toxins that are harmful when consumed by humans." Officials also shut down production sites where the oil was repurposed. The criminal network spanned 14 provinces.
Cooking oil is practically sacred in China, where nearly every recipe requires a wok to be filled with it. Those people drudging it up from the drains and sewers know its worth in an economy in which rising food prices have hit restaurants and consumers hard. They sift old pieces of food from the oil and then resell it to restaurants and vendors looking to cut costs.
Sang Liwei, a Beijing director at the nonprofit organization Global Safety Forum, told the Journal that those involved probably had no real intention to hurt others, but that economic factors have been contributing to food-safety violations.
China Daily reports that the government announced on Wednesday the start of a nationwide crackdown on "gutter oil."
According to the statement, the campaign will include regulating the disposal of restaurant waste, intensified market supervision and crackdown on illegal workshops and sellers of illegal cooking oil -- made from leftovers dredged from gutters behind restaurants.
No details were given for when the campaign will start or how long it will last.
"In less than two years, more than 10,000 tonnes of the 'gutter oil' had entered the market. We are still probing the case," Hong Jufeng, a police officer involved in the crackdown, told China Daily, regarding the arrest of the 32 people on Tuesday.