China's food safety watchdog has ordered inspections of cooking oil nationwide as reports Friday said up to one-tenth of Chinese supplies were illegally made and contained cancer-causing agents.
The State Food and Drug Administration on Thursday ordered stepped up inspections of all food service providers and vowed to punish manufacturers producing "drainage oil," or cooking oil refined from discarded kitchen waste.
"If food service providers are found to be using cooking oil from an unclear source, or if they have bought 'drainage oil', their operations will be immediately halted and they will be dealt with in accordance with the law," said the order posted on the administration's website.
The China Daily said as much as one-tenth of cooking oil used in China could be made from recycled kitchen or restaurant waste oil, which contains a highly toxic, carcinogenic substance called "aflatoxin."
"People in China consume about two to three million tons of illegal cooking oil every year," the China Youth Daily cited He Dongping, a food science expert at the Wuhan Polytechnic University, as saying.
China annually consumes about 22.5 million tons of cooking oil, he added.
According to He, the illegal cooking oil business is extremely profitable as the cost of buying food waste and refining it is low, while edible oil prices were rising.
China's food industry is notoriously prone to food safety scares.
In 2008, the nation's dairy sector was rocked by a tainted milk scandal that the government said resulted in the deaths of six babies and sickened 300,000 others.
Reports have emerged recently that some of the tainted dairy products, which were contaminated with the industrial chemical melamine, had re-emerged on the market. The government has said the problem has been contained.