Last year it was American dogs and cats dying of kidney failure after eating pet food containing gluten from China that was tainted with melamine. This year it is Chinese babies suffering from being fed products containing the chemical used in plastics, fertilizers and flame retardants.

Both incidents clearly illustrate one thing: China has a chronic food safety problem and food inspectors in importing countries have difficulty in catching problem shipments. Pesticide-laden pea pods, drug-laced catfish, filthy plums and crawfish contaminated with salmonella have all been detected in the United States but in Australia our bureaucrats at Food Standards Australia and New Zealand have taken a very softly, softly approach to alerting consumers to potential problems.

Sure the FSANZ did this morning issue a statement giving mothers an assurance that Australia does not import infant formula products from China.

“This has been confirmed by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) and the Infant Formula Manufacturers’ Association of Australia,” the statement said.

“AQIS has confirmed that Australia has not received any imports of dairy products from China this year. The last dairy product imported from China was a condensed milk product in April 2007.”

What the statement did not address was whether the melamine laced milk had ended up in other processed products imported into Australia. Singapore yesterday withdrew from sale a brand of confectionery called White Rabbits and apparently some of this product is now being tested by state health authorities. A prudent food safety authority would have at least mentioned the possibility of contamination in its statement.

The failure to do so is similar to the low key approach taken in August last year to reports that fish imports contained higher than permissible residual levels of antibiotics. The FSANZ fact sheet on that incident blandly stated that “action is taken by compliance agencies where non-complying residues of antibiotics have been found.”

No details were given of what was found in what products imported from where.

Peter Fray

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