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Thursday 20th June 2019

China probes 'gutter oil' drugs scandal

4th September 2012

Chinese authorities are investigating reports that a pharmaceutical company listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange used illegal, recycled "gutter oil" to make antibiotics.


The reports are the latest in a string of safety scandals affecting Chinese foodstuffs and medicines in recent years, including melamine-tainted infant formula milk, used "gutter" cooking oil, and tainted vaccines.

Gutter oil, reprocessed kitchen oil dredged from restaurant drains, is far cheaper to procure than soybean oil, which is normally used in the production of antibiotics.

Last week, the Shanghai Securities News reported that a subsidiary of Shenzhen-based Joincare Pharmaceutical Group was once a client of an underground gutter oil supply network based in the eastern province of Shandong.

Shares of Joincare were suspended from trading shortly after the paper reported that the company had bought 145 million yuan (US$22.8 million) from the Shandong-based network, sparking a public outcry.

Authorities in Ningbo, near Shanghai, put on trial 20 suspects on Aug. 23 in connection with the Shandong gutter oil trading network case.

The gutter oil is used to make 7-ACA, a pharmaceutical intermediate needed to produce antibiotics.

In a statement on its website last Thursday, Joincare said it was unaware that the oil it received from its suppliers was mixed with gutter oil, and that it would shoulder responsibility for any flaws in the 7-ACA that resulted from the oil.

Drug safety regulators in China do not currently monitor the quality of the 7-ACA used in making antibiotics, because the intermediate is produced at a very early stage in the production of pharmaceuticals.

A government investigation is under way into the scandal, with officials promising to release its findings soon.

In April, underground workshops were found to be using decomposing animal fat and organs to produce gutter oil, most of which was sold for food production, and ended up on the tables of restaurants specialising in hotpot cuisine.

Official Chinese media have sought to play down the fears of health implications of gutter oil in medicine production, however.

The Global Times newspaper, which has strong links to China's ruling Communist Party, quoted experts as saying that gutter oil has "legitimate uses" in medication.

In 2008, at least six infants died and another 300,000 developed kidney stones after drinking infant formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.

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