'Gutter oil' went into Chinese-made antibiotics, officials say

Once again, Chinese manufacturing engages the yuck factor. Authorities are investigating reports that several drugmakers have been using "gutter oil" to make their antibiotics. And gutter oil is exactly what it sounds like: discarded cooking oil salvaged from restaurants, and even from street drains near them.

Xinhua reported that pharma companies used the collected oil to make 7-aminocephalosporinic acid, or 7-ACA, which is used to manufacture cephalosporin antibiotics. Soybean oil is the usual precursor.

It's just the latest example of Chinese manufacturers using cut-rate practices to produce drugs. The most notable, at least outside China, was the heparin scandal of several years ago; the blood thinner was tainted with a cheap additive, and it triggered severe allergic reactions in patients, some of them fatal. Drug regulators have conducted some high-profile crackdowns, eager to prove to the world that the Chinese drug industry is safe.

The antibiotics makers now accused were customers of Huikang Grease, which allegedly processed and sold thousands of tons of gutter oil. Last week, several people charged in the case were on trial, and the company names surfaced in court, CBC reports. Chinese media reports fingered more pharma companies today.

Among the companies accused of using the salvaged oil are Jiaozuo Joincare Biological Product, Qilu Pharmaceutical and Charoen Pokphand Group. In all, about a dozen drugmakers were implicated, including some companies that are subsidiaries of Qilu, Shanghai Daily reports.

- read the Shanghai Daily story
- get more from CBC