China to investigate scandal of mixed use of tankers for edible and chemical oil

China to investigate scandal of mixed use of tankers for edible and chemical oil

Workers are busy loading and unloading edible oil at a grain, oil and food company in Nantong, East China’s Jiangsu Province on September 19, 2023. As the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holidays approach, the city’s food enterprises are rushing to fill orders to ensure market supply during the holidays. Photo: VCG

The office of the food safety commission of the State Council established a joint investigation team on Tuesday as public concern continues to foment following a report by The Beijing News, which revealed a startling scandal of the mixed use of tankers for edible and chemical oil. 

Companies such as Hopefull Grain and Oil Group and China Grain Reserves Oil and Fat (Tianjin) Co., Ltd. have been implicated in this scandal. 

The office of the food safety commission of the State Council said it attaches great importance to the issue raised by the media outlet and has organized a special meeting with multiple relevant national departments. 

They vowed to severely punish the illegal activities of the companies and individuals involved according to the law, with no tolerance. At the same time, measures will be taken to conduct a special inspection on hidden risks in the transportation of edible oil. The results of the investigation will be promptly announced, according to the announcement.

On Saturday, China Grain Reserves Oil and Fat (Tianjin), a subsidiary of the China Grain Reserves Management Group Sinograin, announced on social media that they have initiated a comprehensive investigation throughout their entire system.

While probes launched both by the authorities and Sinograin are underway, netizens were shocked to discover that similar accusations of the “contaminated transportation” of food and chemical oils in the same vehicles had been going on for a long time in the country, citing news reports separately released by ngzb.com in 2005 and a program on Hunan TV in 2015.

Legal experts reached by the Global Times on Tuesday highlighted the deficiencies in food safety supervision that require immediate attention and rectification. Also, they stressed that food safety problems should be nipped in the bud and called for more relevant companies to conduct self-examination and self-correction.

The public outcry began in early July when The Beijing News reported that tanker drivers were engaging in a common practice of transporting food and chemical liquids in the same vehicles without cleaning them in between loads. This revelation exposed a longstanding issue within the tanker industry that had previously gone unnoticed.

Many domestic cargo tanker trucks transport both edible liquids including syrup and soybean oil, as well as chemicals including coal oil, according to the news report.

In order to save on costs, some operators do not clean the transportation tanks, and edible oil producers do not check the tanks according to regulations, resulting in chemical residue and contamination of edible oil, The Beijing News reported.

In response, Sinograin has launched a large-scale special inspection.

According to a statement issued by Sinograin on its official Weibo account on Saturday, all affiliated companies are required to rigorously check whether the transportation tools entering and leaving their warehouses meet the requirements.

Additionally, they are required to examine whether the carriers’ transportation tools are in compliance with food safety regulations, and whether the operation meets the relevant standards.

On Tuesday, a representative from the Hopefull Grain and Oil Group told the Global Times that the company is conducting a thorough self-inspection and more detailed updates are awaiting notification from the publicity department of the city of Sanhe in North China’s Hebei Province, where the company is located.  

According to Chinese media outlet nbd.com.cn, on Tuesday, China Grain Reserves clients have received notification from the company requesting verification of the sources of the last three loads on their transport vehicles, particularly focusing on the loading records of oil products. One individual described this incident as a “rare occurrence” that touches upon the “moral bottom line and basic conscience.”

The scandal also prompted probes from local authorities. 

An official from the Sanhe government told the Global Times on Tuesday, that the local authorities are paying great attention to the incident, with the relevant departments actively conducting an investigation. 

Both the market supervision authority in Hebei’s Langfang, which administers Sanhe, and that of Tianjian, responded to inquiries from Chinese media outlets on Tuesday, stating that an investigation into the incident is currently underway with the probe results to be made public.

The Global Times found Tuesday that some Sinograin’s edible oil products have been taken down from Taobao, a popular Chinese e-commerce platform. Only one product from the Jinding brand, which is owned by Sinograin, was still available on Taobao. But Jinding products are still being sold on JD.com. 

The incident has sparked public concerns about food safety with many urging the recall of problematic edible oils and a demand for a thorough investigation and stiff punishments for the people responsible. Also, some netizens expressed their respect toward the journalists who followed up on food safety issues and exposed them in the investigative news reports.

Zhu Wei, a vice director of the Communication Law Research Center at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the incident has shaken public confidence on the effective enforcement of food safety regulations, noting the mixed use of tankers for edible and chemical liquids without cleaning is a clear violation of regulations and laws. 

“When it comes to food safety issues, we must take preventive measures rather than waiting until something happens and then make corrections,” Zhu said, calling for more companies involved in food security to self-examine and self-correct.

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