The Hari Putar Dialogues - 30
(Wall Street Journal; 3 November; Seoul / Beijing: India, South Korea and France banned Chinese dairy products as the World Health Organization (WHO) said the chemical contamination that has killed four infants and sickened 53,000 in China is 'deplorable'. 'Deliberate contamination of foods intended for consumption by vulnerable infants and young children is particularly deplorable,' WHO said in a statement on Thursday. India, Asia's third largest economy, will ban dairy products from China for three months. South Korea's ban comes after melamine was found in a snack imported from China and a biscuit brand from Hong Kong, while in France any food containing Chinese milk products must be removed from stores and cannot be sold.)
Putar: The Wall Street Journal in its report today speaks of how the Indian, South Korean and French Governments have banned Chinese diary products.
Hari: I've read that story putar. It's the latest list of countries to have reacted to the melamine scare. Tens of thousands of children in China have fallen ill with kidney problems in recent months, and at least four have died, after being fed infant formula that was later found to have been mixed with melamine.
Putar: This will affect all Chinese food products very adversely.
Hari: I'm sure it will. Milk is used in so many food products.
Putar: Exactly. People will hesitate to eat Chinese made biscuits for instance. According to the report, melamine was found in a biscuit brand from Hong Kong.
Hari: The report says that Hong Kong mother Shirley Lo stocked her refrigerator with soymilk and switched to buying imported chocolates for her son after melamine was found in baby formula and milk products in China.
Putar: If you drink milk that is adulterated with melamine do you think you would be able to make it out?
Hari: I'm not sure. I guess it would depend.
Putar: At least we can protest if we think that there is something wrong. But babies cannot even protest. Sometimes babies protest anyhow when they are being fed, don't they? A mother may not realise that there is something wrong in the milk, and that's why the baby is protesting.
Hari: That's true. It's just terrible.
Hari: And it's not only milk. It's eggs as well. They found too much melamine in eggs in Hong Kong.
Putar: And eggs too are used in so many food products.
Hari: Of course. South Korea's ban comes after melamine was found in a snack imported from China. That may have used egg.
Putar: This means that your day starts by getting poisoned, because many people all over the world have eggs and milk for breakfast, don't they?
Hari: It ends by getting poisoned as well, putar. Don't forget the last thing you eat is quite often an ice cream or milk custard or even a cake containing eggs. But why have eggs been found full of melamine?
Putar: Because the chickens have been fed animal feed with melamine.
Hari: This means the chickens too are unhealthy, and can give someone melamine poisoning.
Putar: That's true.
Hari: All this brings to mind previous scares over Chinese food safety controls regarding seafood, dumplings and pet food.
Putar: As the report states it's not just melamine we need to worry about. Heavy metals such as lead and mercury that can cause brain damage, as well as cadmium, a compound used in batteries, pesticides and antibiotics are all present in the human food chain in China.
Hari: Doesn't it also say that carcinogenic chemicals are regularly used as food coloring agents or as preservatives?
Putar: That's true. The report also quotes Peter Yu, a professor of biology and chemical technology at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University as saying: "In China, food safety is not a concern and all sorts of things like Sudan red, Malachite green are added in food, so food contamination is widespread." The professor has also cited the use of Malachite green, a carcinogenic agent that in 2006 was found in fish from China.
Hari: Where does it begin and where does it end?
Putar: It's a globalised world today. More than 20 countries and markets in Asia, Africa and Europe have recalled, or restricted Chinese dairy sales after Sanlu Group Co., China Mengniu Dairy Co., and 20 producers sold contaminated products.
Hari: So many owners and managers of companies are involved. These are people with families and you can't help wondering if they have allowed products made in their own factories to be fed to their own children and grandchildren. The entire industry is implicated. The Chinese Government, always quick to take action against political dissidents has been slow to react on this important issue. It's good that the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have announced the ban with immediate effect.
Putar: That's true, but India cannot afford to be too righteous or complacent in this regard. We have our own stable, or rather kitchen, to clean up in this regard.
Hari: Has melamine been found in Indian diary products as well then?
Putar: Not so far, thank God. There is however no doubt that there is lots of other adulteration in Indian food products as well. And you've heard of fake medicines, haven't you?
Hari: These person should receive the strictest punishment.
Putar: I agree. Tell me something Papaji?
Hari: Bol, putar?
Putar: What do you think is the very worst thing about the Chinese system?
Hari: Most people would say that it is the suppression of freedoms in that country.
Putar: But it would seem that all freedoms are not equally suppressed.
Hari: What do you mean, putar?
Putar: They do seem to have the freedom to mix life-threatening chemicals in food products with impunity, don't you think, Papaji?
Hari: I don't know, putar.