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Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain

Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain
Like Other Countries Do

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Bad Taste in Mouth: Mad Cows & Melamine

A bad taste in the mouth

Last Updated: November 02. 2008 8:57PM UAE / November 2. 2008 4:57PM GMT

It is now almost four months since babies in China became ill after drinking tainted milk. For anyone who followed the progress of the BSE outbreak in Britain 20 years ago, the scandal – an overused word, but in this case entirely appropriate – of melamine in Chinese food is taking a depressingly familiar path. If the Chinese agriculture minister appears on live television asking one of his children to drink a glass of milk, we will know that history is repeating itself.

In 1990, four years after the first case of BSE (popularly known as Mad Cow Disease) was reported in Britain, the agriculture minister, John Gummer, went before the cameras with his four-year-old daughter and tried to persuade her to eat a hamburger. Wisely, the child refused, but Mr Gummer himself tucked in with apparent relish, declaring that British beef was safe. By 1996, 4.4 million cattle had been slaughtered, British meat was banned in every country in the world and the nation’s beef industry was in ruins. By this year, 163 people in Britain had died from new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human version of BSE believed to be contracted by eating tainted meat.

That’s where complacency gets you: and it is complacency, along with obfuscation, denial and delay, that has characterised China’s response to this issue. The use of melamine in food production has been banned in China since June last year. Last week, the agriculture ministry dispatched more than 300,000 inspectors to 250,000 food producers to check on their compliance with the ban. That is what they should have done a year ago. Moreover, it now emerges that melamine has been routinely added not only to milk, but also to animal feed, and to the food in Chinese fish farms. Apart from the risk to human health, China has thrown away a golden opportunity. The world, particularly Africa, is crying out for affordable food, but it will be at least a generation before China’s reputation can be repaired. Last week, for example, at Seafood Expo 2008, Dubai played host to delegations from more than 30 countries who either wish to, or already do, export fish and seafood products to the UAE. Among them was China. But in the circumstances, how can they possibly expect us to trust their food?

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