By Li Hongmei
BEIJING, Sept. 14 (Xinhuanet) -- Among the list of food safety scandals that have chronically plagued China in recent days the most nerve-jittery problem of late is the toxic "gutter" oil showing a really nasty reality of Chinese food today.
The list could include, just to name a few, toxic infant formula, pesticide-tainted vegetables, pork tainted with clenbuterol, fish treated with cancer-causing antimicrobials, eggs colored with industrial dye, fake liquor that can cause blindness or death, and exploding watermelons.
The uncovered swill oil has again embarrassed and let down food safety watchdog who has ramped up efforts to put things right and vowed to turn out safe food to grace people's dining table.
Chinese police have detained 32 people in a nationwide crackdown on "gutter oil" or old kitchen oil that has been dredged from gutters and sold for cooking.
Recycled "drainage oil" can contain carcinogens and traces of aflatoxin, a potentially deadly mold.
The Ministry of Public Security said in a statement on its website that police had seized 100 tons (90 metric tons) of the potentially harmful oil in 14 provinces. It said six workshops were closed, including one operated by Jinan Green Bio Oil Co., a business that claimed to be turning kitchen oil into fuel but that was actually churning out recycled cooking oil that it passed off as new.
"This case, through a difficult process of investigation ... not only struck down a criminal chain of gutter oil producers, but also uncovered hidden details of the offenders' greedy and unconscionable production of poisonous and harmful cooking oil," the statement said.
Meanwhile, the State Food and Drug Administration ordered stepped-up inspections of all food service providers and vowed to punish manufacturers producing "gutter oil".
Last year, the State Council, China's Cabinet, said businesses that use recycled oil would be forced to close temporarily or lose their business license and that peddlers who sell the oil could be criminally prosecuted. In actuality, a tough food safety law enacted in 2009 already promises harsh penalties for makers of tainted products.
But, the whole scenario proves not as beautiful as imaged. Chinese consumers have been once and again horrified by a series of food safety scandals. Since July, Chinese courts have sentenced at least a dozen people to jail, including one person who received a suspended death sentence, for their roles in producing or selling pork tainted with toxic chemicals.
Why this situation cannot be abandoned and even has forged into a vicious circle, people wonder. Even worse, with the further crackdown on swill oil, an underworld network of illegal production and marketing has come to light.
The upgraded profiteering means and tricks, on the one hand, feed the runaway greed; on the other, enable the rapacious producers and sellers to take advantage of loopholes of the existing law and government decrees.
Evils could take root and grow wherever supervision and control are not in place or in good time. The relevant authorities should, on top of their repeated promises and clampdowns, update and better laws and regulations, and tackle the problem in comprehensive and scientific ways.
Only then, can food safety cease to be an empty promise made year in year out by authorities, or a wishful dream of the Chinese grassroots.