Black Market Fat

I’m sure you’ve all been avidly following the story of Los Pishtacos – the Peruvian gang of some dozen people who have allegedly been killing indigenous Peruvians, draining the corpses of body fat and selling the fat on the black market.

Two of the gang members were arrested this week at a bus station carrying pop bottles full of liquid which police labs confirmed was human fat. Police have also recovered at least one of the rendered bodies.

The suspects claim they killed their victims, cut off their heads and limbs, took out their organs and then hung the bodies upside down and surrounded them with candles to melt the fat and letting it drip into a bucket below.

They say they got paid $60,000 for every gallon of human fat they sold (They got about one gallon of fat off every person) The say they sold the bottles of rendered human fat to cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies in Europe.

The gang leader, one Hilario Cudena, says he’s been making a nice living off this little enterprise for over 30 years. [Hello……. Hilario? Right away this name would make me suspect a big old prank — if it weren’t for the actual mutilated, fat-free body they found]

And there is a lot of scepticism around this case – mainly because no one can figure out why there would be an underground market for human body fat when there are literally tons of people eager to donate – for free.

Certain manufacturers of soap, lipstick, and eye makeup get fat from rendering plants and animal carcasses (swine, cattle, poultry) and combine it with discarded cooking grease.

Among some of the animal-derived ingredients in cosmetics are:

  • Arachidonic acid, a liquid unsaturated fatty acid taken from the liver, glands, and fat of animals, is used in skin creams to soothe inflammation. 
  • Hyaluronic acid, a natural moisturizing factor, is found in umbilical cords and the fluids around the joints.
  • Monoglycerides/glycerides, stearic acid, and oleic acid can all be obtained from animal fats
  • Placenta polypeptides protein contains waste matter eliminated by the fetus
  • Gelatin is an animal-derived protein produced by boiling skin, ligaments, and/or bones with water (There’s always room for Jello!)

Anyway, none of this stuff costs anywhere close to $60,000 a gallon. Also, rendering humans seems like an awful lot of work to me – all that killing and hacking and sawing. All those candles. How do they keep candles lit for hours outdoors anyway? If they have candles that good, maybe they should be selling them. Because I’d totally buy candles capable of burning outside and hot enough and long enough to melt my fat. Wouldn’t you?

And, if they’ve already gone to all the trouble of kidnapping and killing people and taking out their organs, why not sell the organs? They’re worth a hell of a lot more than $60,000.  In fact, by 2008 figures, a fully-harvested human can gross $250,000 on the Black Market. And no pricey candles to buy.  A good, sharp knife and a Playmate Elite lunch cooler is your entire overhead.

Cosmetic chemist and writer, Amanda Foxon-Hill was quoted as saying;

 If there is a modern day market for human fat, it’s not in mainstream cosmetics. But I would think that the only marketing angle you could put on this is that, you know, capturing something other than the chemistry of the oils, when people search for exotic oils from either the Amazon or the outer regions of the globe, they’re looking for something that they can market as a special angle and have special properties.

Kind of like in Fight Club, where Brad Pitt makes fancy soap with fat stolen from liposuction clinics.

Another theory is that European cosmetics manufacturers are buying the fat for research. They’ve been doing stem cell research for its value in cosmetics and stem cells are extracted from human fat. Usually this fat is legally obtained from hospital scraps, but there have been problems with these tissues being contaminated with infectious viruses, bacteria, HIV, fetal bovine serum (FBS), and various enzymes, which can cause allergic reactions, illness and death. And who wants any of  that from their lipstick, am I right?

Still, why would European cosmetics manufacturers pay huge amounts of money to some creepy gang of killers in Peru when I’m sure lots of local people would happily volunteer for free liposuction?

My personal theory is that it’s either a PR hoax by Tourism Peru to discourage overweight tourists from visiting their svelte little country or some sort of bold statment fromPETA to encourage people to buy cruelty-free cosmetics.