And then there was New York…

…back in 1858

Ex colleague under the pen-name Zhen Meng who now writes the BOSTON BRAHMIN column in the New Paper sent me his complete column which shows in essence that there’s nothing new under the sun. What’s discovered in China has happened be4 in New York ..
STEROID-FED pigs and chickens, fish pumped up with hormones, pesticide-laced dumplings and, yuck, lard made from sewage – so what else do you think is new?
In recent years, China’s food and safety scandals have involved nearly everything unthinkable, from fake baby milk formulas and soy sauce made from human hair, to instances where cuttlefish were soaked in calligraphy ink to improve their colour and eels were fed contraceptive pills to make them grow long and slim.

But what about the latest tainted milk thingy? Picture this:

‘The milk was marketed as pure and wholesome, and it looked fine to the naked eye. How were the mothers to know they were poisoning their babies? They had paid good money for it on the open market.

‘It would take thousands of sick children before lawmakers did anything to stop it.’

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

China in 2008?

No, New York City in 1858, points out Ms Bee Wilson, the author of Swindled: The Dark History of Food Fraud from Poisoned Candy to Counterfeit Coffee.

According to Ms Wilson, missing from the coverage of today’s Chinese baby formula poisoning is how often it has happened in other countries before.

‘The disaster unfolding now in China – and spreading inevitably to its trading partners – is eerily similar to the ‘swill milk’ scandal that rumbled on in New York for several decades of the 19thcentury,’ she said.

In 1853, it was found that 90,000 or so quarts (85,000 litres) of cow’s milk entered New York City each day. But that number ‘mysteriously’ increased to 120,000 quarts at the point of delivery.

And here’s why there were 30,000 extra quarts.

Diluted, then padded

‘Some of the increase was due to New York dairymen padding their milk with water, and then restoring its richness with flour – just like their latter-day Chinese counterparts, who increased the protein levels in watered-down milk by adding the noxious chemical melamine.

‘But the greater part was swill milk, a filthy, bluish substance milked from cows tied up in crowded stables adjoining city distilleries and fed the hot alcoholic mash left from making whiskey.

‘This too was doctored – with plaster of Paris to take away the blueness, starch and eggs to thicken it and molasses to give it the buttercup hue of honest Orange County milk.’

Back then, The New York Times reported as many as 8,000 American children each year died because of this ‘swill milk’.

In the end, it took about 50 years for New York to clean up its food and safety act.

In China’s case, news about its melamine-in-milk scandal seems to get worse with each passing day.

Tainted infant formula was also at the centre of another food scandal in China in 2004 that prompted a crackdown on rogue suppliers.

Then, more than 200 Chinese infants suffered malnutrition and at least 12 died after being fed phony formula that contained no nutrients.

So far, four infants have died and some 53,000 have developed kidney stones or other illnesses after drinking the melamine-contaminated baby formula.

Not unlike New Yorkers in the past, Chinese producers trying to make more money often cheat by diluting milk with water, which lowers the nutritional content.

But the addition of melamine, which is high in nitrogen, helps the milk appear to meet nutrition standards by artificially raising its protein count.

‘It’s true you can make a lot more profit by putting melamine in,’ said a Chinese animal feed seller.

‘Melamine will cost you about US$1 (about $1.40) for each protein count per ton whereas real protein costs you about US$6, so you can see the difference.’

Not surprisingly, Chinese suppliers – squeezed by higher costs for fertiliser, feed, gas and labour – are believed to have turned to melamine.

But before you start pointing fingers, remember the uncanny similarities between China today and New York 150 years ago.

Remember, too, that the latest tainted milk scandal only shows how a fast-growing capitalist economy, coupled with a government unable or unwilling to regulate the food supply, can only mean one thing – an open invitation to wholesale swindling.

Read more of Zhen Ming’s writings at

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