Milk is a substance that first exposes us to fragrance, texture and flavour. It is our first source of nourishment. Special status is accorded to milk, especially mother’s milk, in all cultures and all literatures, perhaps as a consequence of these facts. The nostalgia associated with milk and the fact of it being an initial nourishment is excellent hooks for any milk-based products to hang promotional material. This is why we frequently see milk and milk-based products being advertised with little children and young mothers.
There is nothing wrong in this, as long as the claims are not false, exaggeration kept within reasonable limits and celebrity endorsements are not unethical. Even if these general rules of corporate responsibility are tweaked, it would not be the reason for alarm if the products turned out to be harmless if consumed in reasonable amounts. We must keep in mind that too much of anything (even things considered ‘wholesome’) can be bad and also that consumers themselves need to know what can be harmful – there is perhaps nothing that is harmless to all creatures except water. Some people have allergies. Medical conditions restrict diet. If there are warning labels and these are prominently displayed, consumers cannot complain.
The recent controversy with respect to milk powder imported to Sri Lanka from New Zealand, as has been reported, is not limited to inadequacies in labelling (an area which requires the Consumer Affairs Authority to revisit the relevant statutes and the Government to streamline relevant regulations and enforcing mechanisms). It is about contamination, i.e. a problem at the production end of the entire process of which labelling, packaging, marketing, distribution and consumption lie at the tail-end.
It is certainly praiseworthy that the Consumer Affairs Authority has taken steps to get samples of milk powder produced in New Zealand tested. On the other hand, the contamination issue, although raised locally only recently, has been widely discussed in the public domain for several months. What this indicates is that regular and systematic screening has not been done previously. It has to be noted also that milk is not the only item of food that Sri Lanka imports.
Several state agencies have to work in concert to ensure that the population is adequately protected. There is a long history of contamination being ‘off-shored’ with rogue-corporates preying on the technical incapacity and indeed the poverty of developing countries to bulldoze through regulation and sell to uninformed and therefore gullible consumers all kinds of poisons that the producing country will not let them sell to their own citizens.
" The poison must be stopped at the gate. Experts on nutrition and medicine have to be consulted in order to determine what’s permissible and what really needs to be rejected "
The poison must be stopped at the gate. Experts on nutrition and medicine have to be consulted in order to determine what’s permissible and what really needs to be rejected. Special provisions should be made to streamline advertisements related to food items to put a stop to fear-mongering and the dissemination of misleading information. New labelling laws need to be developed.
More than all this, consumers must take the initiative to educate themselves. In the end, only an enlightened and alert consumer will consumer intelligently. When an entire community is alert, state agencies have to fall in line and this is how corporates can be made to be responsible.
It’s our collective baby. It’s up to us to poison the baby or take care of it.