For all the Cows! (we are what they eat)
Recently I wrote about a little tree cone I found in my Mengniu yoghurt and how it bugged me to the point of never wanting to buy that product again. Today I read about how Wang Xiaoshan, a columnist, published a microblog post calling for Web users to boycott all Mengniu products. This was because it was found in October of this year that some of Mengniu’s products were contaminated with over double the national permitted level of Aflatoxin M1. This substance is reported to cause severe liver damage and liver cancer.
How did this carcinogen get in the products?
Reports are formulating that cows were given Mildewed feed which caused the high levels of this toxin in the milk. If the levels were twice the acceptable amount then surely the feed is allowed to be somewhat mildewed (mouldy) anyway. If your animals eat crap, then why would you not expect the product from them to also be crap? Did no one hear of the adage, you are what you eat?
This is a lesson that has been out there to learn for many years and covers all animals farmed for meat and dairy. Most of you will be familiar with the following cases:
- Mad cow disease (BSE) and the human infection, CJD was formed from contaminated cattle feed in UK and Europe in the mid 1990’s.
- Dioxin (another carcinogen) in European meats from late 1990’s to mid 2000’s caused by mixing animal carcasses and animal waste in feed.
- In October 2008, certain egg products produced by Hanwei Group were contaminated with melamine in China. Agriculture officials believe adulterated feed given to hens could explain the elevated melamine levels.
- February 2009, an outbreak linked to banned animal feed additive Clenbuterol harmed at least 70 people in Guangdong Province. Clenbuterol, an asthma medication, is often added to pig feed to produce leaner meat.
All this got me thinking. We can look at Mengniu and point the finger once again but let’s face it; this one company isn’t the real problem. If one is doing it, chances are most of them are doing it. If most of them are doing it, why isn’t anything more drastic being done about improving the situation? Lessons can be learned from how other countries have dealt with this before. Why is China making the same mistakes? Food scares are a common problem and issue in China and there is an ongoing battle by the AQSIQ to combat this, but while the line between governance and private interest in China is blurred at best, these issues will always be there and profit will be put above quality, safety and social responsibility.
In China the concept of CSR is still not a well understood or developed business practice and this is where foreign brands can initially have an impact.
If I were a European Dairy farmer, I’d be getting hard at work preparing for the European dairy produce cap to be lifted next year and laying the ground work to begin exporting to China. If the feed is heavily regulated and pollution levels lower in the places where these animals are raised, I believe Chinese consumers will buy these products in droves based on these facts alone. I hope and expect we’ll see some real success stories of such European businesses booming in China.
Despite the recent Dioxin contamination and 18 month ban on Irish Pork, the food safety issues in China have caused much more damage to this industry. Foreign pork imports have resumed and are climbing again, paving the way for better regulated meat from Europe to take an even bigger bite out of the market.
I believe it is all down to responsibility to the industry and respect for the market. It’s about time we all start asking questions in order to get greater clarity and understanding about what it is that we are consuming. If you knew that the yoghurt you drink every morning may have cancer causing agents in it, would you drink it? If you knew that juicy steak you are eating came from a cow that lived its life being fed mulched diseased animals and sludge, would you eat it?
If you knew your yoghurt and sausages came from animals reared on green pastures and industry approved meal wouldn’t you feel more comfortable about what you put in your body? I know I would.