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Be A Good Person – Don’t Produce ‘Black-Hearted’ Food
Malaysia Perspective | 05 July 2011


‘Black-hearted’ (tainted or substandard) food often rears its ugly head among certain countries in which their public awareness education are lagging behind that of other emerging countries despite their rapid economic growth. Examples include the outbreak of melamine-tainted milk powder incidents in China, growth hormone-fed livestock and tainted pork incidents in Malaysia. Last month, the famous gourmet paradise – Taiwan -was slammed by a wave of tainted food incidents where certain food products were found to contain plasticiser. Eventually, it was discovered that hundreds of food products, cosmetics, and even flu syrup for children are contaminated. The market was thrown into chaos and share prices of food companies plummeted in response. As a result of globalisation, Malaysia naturally also bore the brunt of the scandal.

Many are attracted to the crunchiness, appealing colours and chewiness of Taiwanese snacks, attributing these traits to the quality ingredients that manufacturers use. Little did they know that it was in fact due to the plasticiser that unethical manufacturers add to these products. It turned out that such poisoning of consumers had been going on undetected for the past 30 years. In their bid to cut cost, profiteers have been substituting the costlier palm oil, which is a permitted additive, with the cheaper plasticiser.

The media responded by ridiculing that “Taiwanese have been drinking contraceptives daily”, and “plasticiser is the primary cause of Taiwan having the lowest birth rate in the world”. Why is this so? Experts pointed out that a high dosage of plasticiser can cause liver cancer as well as reduce the quantity and activeness of sperms. Some people reasoned that plasticiser is one of the prime suspects for Taiwan having the world’s highest number of kidney dialysis patients. The question that begs answering, then, is this: how had the rampant usage of plasticising agents gone undetected for so long, even in Singapore, which is well known for its stringent testing standards?

The fact is, plasticisers are non-edible chemicals which international standards have never listed in the food inspection check-lists. This loop-hole thus allows unscrupulous businesses to take advantage of this exclusion. Faced with the growing plethora of hazardous materials, governments urgently need to put in place an effective and rigorous safety inspection mechanism. In addition to expanding the scope of monitoring and updating the testing standards, it is imperative that they work on improving their detection capabilities and step up their scrutiny of the edibility of food products. The discovery of plasticisers in food products in Taiwan came about only when the relevant authority noticed abnormal readings when detecting for slimming drugs in probiotics. Further investigations to verify their suspicion uncovered the presence of the plasticiser bis(2-ehylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP).

Faced with the bewildering range of food and beverages available, consumers need to be vigilant and seek to have a better understanding of the nature of the food we consume, question exaggerated claims, and not just rely on official test results. It is understandable for manufacturers to want to reduce costs, but the authorities should thoroughly investigate the sources of ultra-cheap raw materials, so as not to become unwitting accomplices of profiteers.

From these incidents, it would seem that countries need to aggressively develop the quarantine industry, for its development and advancements will then help governments offer comprehensive, efficient and cost-effective inspection services to food manufacturers, and promote such inspection of raw materials as an integral part of the production process for upstream and downstream manufacturers. Notwithstanding the deterrent effects of severe penalties, it is only through rigorous enforcement that we can weed out such unethical profiteering. In the instance of Malaysia’s determination to clamp down on tainted pork and other food stuff, the Ministry of Health struck straight at the root by carrying out random checks on the 100,000 food-processing plants all over Malaysia.

No matter whether we live to eat or eat to live, humans will always find ways to overcome food safety issues, be it caused by natural disasters, bacteria or viruses. In the same way, we should have a firm stance against artificial tainting in the food production process. However, the human factor is often the main cause of today’s endless stream of tainting incidents. This involves the businessmen’s ethics, integrity and conscience. Some are unfortunately blinded by profits and greed when they commit to actions in total disregard of human health and safety. In our pursuit for economic returns and higher development, only when everyone start from the lowest common denominator of becoming a down-to-earth “good person” can such artificial poisoning incidents begin to taper off gradually.


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