giovedì 18 settembre 2008

Contaminated Milk

Four children died in China for contaminated milk powder with melamine – a chemical used to produce glue and plastic materials. In the same time the scandal involved also an European company. The Swedish-Danish diary company Arla Foods announced that some products, with milk powder contaminated by melamine and produced by its Chinese partner (Mengniu Dairy), have been retired from the market. These news provoke two strictly linked questions. On the one hand we have the problem of food “basic quality” or its safety which must be always guaranteed at the maximum level through a rigorous conformity to a normative system capable to determine safety requisites and effective control systems. Food must be “tracked” in order to make consumers adequately informed about the path food has followed to reach our tables and who are the subjects having contributed to food production (to be extended also to import). On the other hand we have the problem of illegal import of food and raw materials. Illegal imports of live animals, meat, fish, milk and other agricultural products imply that the “qualitative history” of these products is actually unknown. This problem thus represents a potential source of introduction on our markets of tainted products for the presence of too high levels of chemical residues, pesticides or meat deriving from sick animals. Illegal imports derive from a precise demand from dishonest producers having as only scope the costs’ minimizing using unhealthy ingredients and violating any hygienic norm. Even if this problem surely creates losses for honest firms, the principal victim of this plague remains the consumer: it means all of us in our personal physical integrity because foods with no qualitative history expose us to severe health risks. It is urgently necessary to achieve an effective harmonization among EU members’ norms and regulations because without this harmonization complexity, inconsistence and ambiguity of these norms may become a critical source for these problems having essentially a trans-national nature: safety controls are in fact implemented only towards EU non members products (because internal controls have been abolished) but it is evident that illegal imports to reach European markets will be stronger where control systems are weaker. It is also necessary to stimulate an intelligent consumption “culture”: often we are very interested about our last generation mobile phone’s features (which we are prone to buy at any price) and we value food only on the base of its price without considering its qualities. We must learn to read labels and move our attention from market price to quality price or the expertise of the companies involved in its entire production and rigorous controls of the raw materials’ quality, production methods, storage and packaging and environmental protection. We must become more aware and informed consumers, pretending clear and comprehensible labels, preferring tracked foods and never forgetting local products.

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