jump to navigation

Melamine and Responsibility October 22, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.

Some of us have been taught, long ago, that “Everything is political.” I tend to think so sometimes myself, although I do try to avoid falling into the “suppressed correlative” fallacy (remember that one, dear students of mine?). So, knowing that this news item, too, has a political aspect, I offer it to you as an option to think beyond political polarization in these heated times:


Yes, there is melamine news! The latest victims are 1500 Chinese racoon dogs who have died from kidney failure within the past two months, after the melamine milk connection was revealed. They were apparently given melamine-laced feed, and an autopsy of 12 dogs revealed that their kidney stones consisted of melamine. These dogs are bred, in China, for their fur (the kind that adorns some parka collars. If I remember correctly, a major U.S. clothing outlet got in trouble a few years ago when it turned out they sold clothing with dog-fur decorations—originating in China.). So these dogs are bred to be killed and aren’t anyone’s pets, and the primary outrage here, from the dog breeders, is probably the loss of profit and not the loss of companions. (Another nice topic to ponder.)

According to the AP, a cover-up attempt was made:

Zhang said the company that produces the animal feed is in talks with breeders in Xishan, the village in Liaoning province where the dogs died, about providing compensation and has pressured them not to talk to the media.

Zhang did not give the company’s name but the newspaper report said the feed was produced by Harbin Hualong Feed Co. The company refused to comment Monday, saying officials were unavailable because they were in a meeting.

What makes this worth noting is that this is not anecdotal evidence, as is the melamine deaths of thousands of American pets last year—this is a large group of animals dying within a defined location and a short span of time, with a documented cause of death. In addition, a lion cub and two orangutan babies at a Shanghai Zoo were fed melamine-tainted milk last month, and developed kidney stones.

            So are we beating a dead horse here, in a manner of speaking? Don’t we already know all this? Here’s what is dangerous about our thirst for news these days: We only pay attention if it is new news—not an ongoing story that needs to be kept in focus. But if you don’t care about raccoon dogs, lion cubs and orangutans, how about kids in Alabama eating Chinese melamine cookies? Or San Francisco kids eating melamine candy? The Chinese cookie brand “Koala’s March” has been taken off the shelves in Alabama, because the cookies were found to contain melamine, but as of Oct.16, the FDA had not issued a nationwide warning, and there has been no general recall. Oct.1 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a warning about cookies from the same manufacturer.

In addition, according to the Los Angeles Times,

Last month, the California Department of Public Health warned people not to eat White Rabbit candy imported from China by a San Francisco Bay Area company. Some candies tested by officials contained melamine levels of as much as 520 parts per million.

            In a previous thread, Deli made a good point: that food additives for profit, such as gluten, reveal essentially the same moral issue, and lack of concern and respect for the consumer. I would agree with that point in principle, but I want to add that the difference in degree really matters—and whether the further consequences (a previous good Moria point) can be called unintended.

            So the bottom line is, what to do? Obviously we can’t rely on the notion that if it is on our shelves, then it is safe. Guess what? We’ve never been able to rely on that, most of us have just been lucky. There is the high road, the appeal to our political officials to make some strong points regarding the food safety of this nation, for us and our pets and livestock—once the political dust storm has lifted and revealed a landscape of change, whichever direction it goes. This is the L.A. Times’ solution:

The answer is more oversight — not only by the Chinese but also by our own market watchdogs. We need an FDA with both the resources and the wherewithal to keep consumers safe, just as we need financial authorities who can protect us from Wall Street’s greedier impulses.

But then there is the low, humble road of personal responsibility (which, by the way, does not preclude caring for one’s neighbor): Read those ingredients. Be aware of what you buy. Be aware of what you support with your purchase. Bake your own d*mn cookies. In the end, we’re still depending on luck—because we can’t be informed about everything, especially when we’re being lied to. But it won’t hurt to increase our individual level of awareness.



1. Paul Moloney - October 25, 2008

As usual, there are so many related topics in Nina’s post (the same is true of Dwight’s posts) that one has to pick and choose for the sake of brevity.

The most relevant topic here seems to be that of greed. To the reasoning person, greed would be a cause of alienation from the community. This is demonstrated by the evidence given in Nina’s post. If people were not alienated from the community, which can also be the community of humanity, they would be concerned about causing harm to others.

I take greed to mean being unreasonable to someone for the sake of money. It is impossible to be unreasonable to someone without being offensive and harmful to that person in particular and to others in general. The anger people have toward the greedy demonstrates its offensiveness. Anything that is is offensive is also harmful, as the damage done by melamine testifies.

Greedy people are also clever. If they were not clever they could not make so much money. Greedy people will also take advantage of ignorant people. It seems that most of the TV commercials are not directed toward intelligent people. They are a good source, the TV commercials, though, for giving examples of logical fallacies.

Greedy people can make themselves appear to be very sociable because their profit depends on society, the society from which they have alienated themselves. They will even make their greed out to be a form of patriotism. If we do not want to be a victim of greed we are made out to be unpatriotic. It does not seem, to me at least, to be patriotic to take advantage of your fellow citizens for the sake of profit.

I have to think that people are greedy more for the sake of their ego than for the sake of money. At least I would think that the ego is the cause of greed. The thinking seems to be that the more money one has the better they are than others. Immorality becomes the standard for morality. Those with more money can consider themselves morally superior to those with less money, even though they obtained more money through immoral means (I have been heavily influenced by one of Dwight’s previous posts).

A group of greedy people is not a community, if the notion of community includes social interaction among the members. Greed is not a form of social interaction. Being egotistical is not a form of social interaction. Egotism and greed impede social interaction among members of society, which is harmful to society. If anything greed stifles the economy.

2. Nina Rosenstand - October 29, 2008

Greed is a fascinating concept–even in other primate populations it is disapproved of, and when discovered, the perpetrators are punished. So, a very ancient problem in the midst of a very social species.
By the way, now there is melamine in exported Chinese eggs, and apparently also in imported chocolate candy coins (the ones with the gold wrap) here at our very own Costco…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: