Commodities

Tainted Cooking Oil Scandal Revives China Food Safety Fears

(Bloomberg) -- Cooking oil produced by a major Chinese state-run food company has been removed from leading online stores after concerns over contamination have revived consumer fears over food safety in a country scarred by past scandals.

“Jinding” brand cooking oil — produced by conglomerate China Grain Reserves Corp., — was withdrawn from platforms including Taobao and JD.com. That followed a report in state-run Beijing News last week, which described tankers being filled with soybean oil at crushing facilities owned by companies including Sinograin, as it is known, immediately after unloading inedible coal oil and without being checked for cleanliness. 

It was not immediately clear why the products were taken down from virtual shelves, but the speed of reaction and outrage online are a reminder that worries over food quality continue to rattle both Chinese consumers and officials. The scandal comes at a difficult time for Beijing’s leadership, just as the party’s most senior officials prepare to gather in the capital and at a time when shoppers’ confidence is already weak.

Sinograin has started an internal probe into the matter and vowed to punish employees who had violated rules. Regulators are also tightening scrutiny, with the State Administration for Market Regulation setting up a joint investigation team to look into the alleged use of fuel tankers to transport cooking oil.

The Communist Party-run People’s Daily has referred to the tank truck incident as a practice that was effectively “an open secret”.

“This severely damages public health,” the paper said earlier this week. “There should be no tolerance for any problems in food safety” in China.

Over the years, China has been rocked by a series of food-safety scandals which still reverberate, including an incident over adulterated milk in 2008 which killed six children and poisoned some 300,000 more. A top pork processor apologized for sanitary failings in 2022 after a report showing meat dropping on the floor and workers in dirty uniforms. Other similar instances are not uncommon.

“There’s no food safety,” one Weibo user wrote in a comment to a news report on tainted oil tankers. “We only need to make sure food won’t lead to death after being eaten.”

(Adds Weibo comment in final paragraph.)

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