Burma’s Substandard Peanut Oils Put to the Test

By San Yamin Aung 4 November 2013

RANGOON — A consumer protection agency says it will examine peanut oils in local markets next month to root out the brands that are fake or substandard and potentially harmful to health.

Peanut oil, a mild tasting vegetable oil derived from peanuts, is popular in Burmese cooking, but profit-minded producers have found ways to market and sell varieties that are cheaper to produce because they contain only a small quantity of peanuts.

These fake or substandard varieties will be examined by Burma’s Consumer Protection Agency, according to chairman Ba Oak Khaing.

He noted three main types of fake or substandard oils sold in Burma. Some varieties are produced by mixing real peanut oil with palm oil, a cheaper product. A second type has no peanut oil at all, but instead mixes palm oil with chemicals to achieve the correct color, smell and consistency. Sodium hydroxide is used to prevent the palm oil from solidifying, according to the consumer protection association.

Sodium hydroxide is a strong chemical base that is used to manufacture pulp and paper, textiles, drinking water, soaps and detergents. Food-grade sodium hydroxide can be used for washing or chemically peeling fruits and vegetables, caramel coloring production, cocoa processing and soft drink processing. Pretzels may be glazed in sodium hydroxide before baking for crispiness, while olives may be soaked in the chemical for softening.

A third variety of fake peanut oil mixes reused cooking oils with sodium hydroxide.

“Mixing peanut oil with palm oil is fake peanut oil. If they don’t put that information on their brand-name oil bottles, they are violating the consumers’ right to be informed,” Ba Oak Khaing told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

He warned of potential health effects. “If consumers eat fake peanut oils, especially the kinds made from reused oils, it can cause cancers and diseases,” he said.

“We are taking samples of peanut oils starting this month in Mandalay, Yangon [Rangoon] and Taunggyi [in Shan State], where we heard about the sale of fake peanut oils.”

He said the consumer protection association has already taken samples from 15 oil brands in Mandalay and Rangoon’s South Dagon Township, but had not yet sent those samples to the laboratory for analysis.

One viss (1.65 kilograms) of peanut oil requires about 2.5 viss of peanuts to be milled, Ba Oak Khaing said. One viss of peanuts costs about 1,500 kyats (US$1.50), so a viss of genuine peanut oil should cost at least 3,800 kyats.

“A viss of peanut oil which costs less than 3,800 kyats cannot be 100 percent peanut oil,” he said. “But most fake peanut oils are sold for about 1,500 kyats per viss. I urge consumers not to believe that all peanut oils are authentic, and to avoid buying the cheaper varieties, which can be bad for their health.”

He said it would take about one month to test the peanut oils, and that the association would then declare which brand-name oils should be avoided.

Some oil vendors questioned whether fully fake peanut oils were actually being sold but acknowledged that mixed products were common.

“There is no fake peanut oil. There is only the mix of peanut oil with palm oil in the market, but if the Consumer Protection Association can test precisely, it will be good for the public,” said San Linn, general secretary of the Myanmar Edible Oil Dealers Association.

He said he had not heard about the production or sale of fake peanut oils in Rangoon, but that officials were investigating how vendors in Mandalay could access illegally imported and substandard edible oils.

“All brand-name oils have backing from the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], and all producers must be fully responsible for their products,” he said.

He added that Magwe Division was a main producer of edible oils in Burma, and that one viss of peanut oil from the division currently costs 3,500 kyats.

According to data from the Myanmar Edible Oil Dealers Association, Burma imports about 2.5 million tons of edible oil annually, while 8.5 million tons are consumed. The country produces 6 million tons of peanut, sesame and sunflower oils.