Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, published a nation wide report on 14th September 2011 about unearthing a nation wide scam in cooking oils. As per this report, the Ministry of Public Security, carried out a nationwide crackdown on re-processors of used cooking oil and Thirty Two suspects were arrested for making and selling illegal cooking oil. The ministry has named this scam as “Gutter Oil Scam” and says that re-processors and sellers of this illegal cooking oil are spread over 14 provinces and have a total turnover 2.25 million metric tons of oil.
Most of the Chinese dishes are prepared in a cooking pot called Wok, by stir frying the ingredients in cooking oil. This means that all Chinese dishes have a substantial residue of cooking oil. More over, some specialized dishes such as ‘Fish Fillets in hot Chilli Oil’ are made by frying with plenty of oil. After the dish is cooked, the leftover oil is simply thrown off. Similarly, all left overs from food are just thrown off to the gutters. Giant restaurants and hotels throw away colossal amounts of left over food. According to Ministry of Public security, a major business is thriving all over China, which collects back, the food thrown in the gutters and separates the oil content. This separated oil is then sold to re-processors, who by means of chemical additives, re-process and purify the oil. This oil is supposed to be used for industrial purposes.
This ministry now says that this oil, instead of being used for industrial purposes, is being re-used again for cooking food. The use of this reprocessed oil has now spread so extensively that any one, who eats outside, is bound to consume this oil at least once in every ten meals.
The police are supposed to have raided re-processors in Zhejiang, Shandong, and Henan provinces and have arrested 32 suspects for making and selling illegal cooking oil in mid-July. The police found hundreds of tons of illegal cooking oil, re-processed from oil that was used in homes and restaurants previously and is retrieved by scraping from the gutters. The ministry has published photographs about the oil processing and storage.
After this news was published, the official media tom-tomed the police operation, calling it an unprecedented success as police have managed to seize colossal amounts of illegal oil and many suspects. They claim this to be very important because for the first time the police have dismantled a nationwide illegal cooking oil ring, which more or less confirms the rumors, that many restaurants in China use gutter oil to cook food, are probably true.
There has been a considerable amount of debate in unofficial media such as social networking sites on the internet, about the possible motives of the Government behind this sudden move against re-processed cooking oil. New information is now coming to light, which reveals the real reason for this sudden awakening of the Government machinery about the so called “ Gutter Oil Scam”.
Many knowledgeable persons claim that this use of Re-processed cooking oil or Gutter Oil for cooking is not something that is new or found for the first time. Ms. Li Dilian, who hosts a popular “Jia You!” cooking show on state television in the province of Chengdu, recently came out with an entire episode which showed her making dishes with gutter oil. “The response was just fantastic. Gutter oil cooked dishes have a smoky, tangy flavor associated and use of this oil can do wonders to simple, everyday dishes. She says that “I don’t understand this crackdown campaign. People should be free to use whatever ingredients they wish.”
Environmentalists are clearly disappointed with the new initiative. Some other critics on the net, claim that confiscating gutter oil is a violation of personal freedom. This argument may not hold much water as there is no such thing as personal freedom in China anyway. Some people feel that the reasons behind this new initiative could be radically different. The Police raids are taking place not because they have concern for public health but for some other unknown reasons. In any case the public is totally opposed to this new initiative and consider this as mere propaganda. They want to continue using the Gutter oil for cooking.
A giant Gutter oil re-processor, surnamed Zhang, expresses his frustration with the new policy. He says that “I thought the government was into recycling, and I was proud to be involved with a “green” sector. But with this new crackdown campaign, I don’t know what to think. Things change so quickly in China! My risk management department is totally confused these days.”
Two reasons are being put forward by analysts as possible reasons for this sudden action by the Chinese Government. Fred Yellin, is the Shanghai bureau chief for the Washington Blade newspaper . He thinks that there is more to the story than is being reported in quasi-government media. I quote. “My sources tell me that a member of the State Council has ties to a large, State-owned cooking oil company whose market share is being threatened by the new gutter oil trend. This whole thing just comes down to protectionism.”
Tex Cohen, energy consultant and principal at ‘ The Lubricants Group’ based in Houston USA, feels that alternative uses for gutter oil may be an explanation behind this Government action. I quote.
“Recent findings at Tsinghua University in China may hold the key. Professor Wu Ran last month published research on thermal breeder reactor energy yields from a variety of fuels. Using gutter oil, breeding ratios are so high that even U-233 and Thorium are put to shame,” He says further that
“ The latest gutter oil crackdown is an attempt by the National Development & Reform Commission to build up a strategic gutter oil reserve that could be drawn upon to fuel the next generation of China’s nuclear plants. Within five years, China will be the world’s leader in gutter oil power generation.”
Whatever may be the true reason behind this Government action, we may never know. One thing is for sure, Chinese Government has not announced this scam to highlight public health. The real motive appears to be quite different.