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The melamine Chihuahua: Infant deaths in China recall the pet food recall

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:57am

Those of us who like to think in epidemiological terms know that pets can act as sentinels for cancers, infectious diseases and toxin exposure. The Chihuahua in the coal mine and all that.

The recent press on thousands of sickened babies in China (and at least four deaths to date) recalls that line of thinking, begging the question that’s in all of our minds: How could they let this happen...again?

It’s not as if they didn’t get the memo on the pet food recall. At least one official was hung for the melamine debacle in that case—less than a year ago. Is institutional memory that short in China? Or perhaps it never got the serious due it deserved given the victims’ non-human status.

After all, we know that China’s emerging economy isn’t exactly an enlightened one, despite our business leaders’ protests to the contrary and our collective swallowing of Beijing's Olympic pomp.

Dogs in China have received clubbings in lieu of rabies vaccinations. Animal deaths in America inspire only minimal additions to systemic controls over product safety in China. And now lower-income Chinese babies, for their sub-humanness and drain on the economy, are rewarded with melamine-laced milk powder.

Not surprisingly, the outcry on Chinese human rights blogs has come fast and furiously. Most of them reference the worldwide pet food recall, implying that Chinese officials only paid lip service to the seriousness of the melamine toxicity out of a need to mollify soft American sensibilities and safeguard their business interests.

More interestingly, the pet food recall is again on everyone’s lips, more so even in China than in the US.

This week, we’ve heard 2007’s pet food recall referenced in the media more than ever since the first month of the scandal. In fact, I can’t help feeling that the coverage now applies more credence to the severity of the recall in the wake of the at least 6,200 infant poisonings in China.

Finally, it seems, both sides of the Pacific are giving the animals the respect they deserve as sentinels for more broad-based malfeasance on the part of lax Chinese safety protocols.

“Thousands of pets were sickened and died.” Sad as it is to recall, this now-popular media line is music to my ears. It validates everything we experienced. Gone are the detractors claiming much ado about a mere thirteen animal deaths. And here’s where we get to say… “We told you so.”
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