Officials Investigate Cooking Oil

A Chinese company apologizes after official confirmation of a tainted product.

Jinhao-Oil-305.gif A screenshot of the Jinhao website, Sept. 3, 2010.
Courtesy of Jinhao

HONG KONG—Officials in the southern Chinese province of Hunan have confirmed they are testing a brand of up-market cooking oil following concerns that it contains high levels of carcinogenic compounds.

The confirmation came Tuesday following media reports of "secret recalls" of Jinhao Camellia Oil that sparked outrage among Chinese netizens.

The director of the Hunan Provincial Government Health Department, who gave his surname as Kang, said, "This matter is being dealt with by the Provincial Quality Inspection Bureau."

An official who answered the phone at the Hunan Provincial Quality Inspection Bureau confirmed there had been complaints about the Jinhao Camellia Oil.

"There have been reports," the official said. "Of course we will be dealing with the matter according to the reports."

Local health authorities confirmed the secret recalls Aug. 31 following an expose in the magazine Century Weekly.

Failure to inform

In a Sept. 1 statement on its company website, Jinhao apologized for failing to inform consumers that its products contained high levels of the carcinogen benzo(a)pyrene.

The company "did not inform the public about the substandard products in time and did not inform people thoroughly about the recall process," the company said.

A company employee, contacted by telephone, had earlier said the reports were the result of malicious rumors started by the company's competitors.

Official media reports have blamed the high levels of the carcinogen found in the oil on the use of outdated equipment, and quoted quality inspection officials as saying the problem has since been resolved.

Despite the recall, nearly 10 tons of contaminated cooking oil may still be in circulation on the market, according to figures presented in Jinhao's Sept. 1 statement.

Consumers concerned

Online reaction was fast and harsh, with many netizens worried that they had been consuming the tainted oil, marketed as a high-end luxury product costing about 330 yuan (U.S. $49) per 10-litre container—four times the cost of a similar amount of regular cooking oil.

Camellia oil is increasingly popular among China's burgeoning middle class, with nearly half of the oil consumed domestically coming from Hunan province.

The incident is the latest in a string of food safety scandals to hit Chinese products.

Original reporting Mandarin by Xin Yu and in Cantonese by Bi Zimo. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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