Another Brazilian scandal

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When the news broke of the meat scandal in Brazil, we immediately turned to the government to see what their reaction would be.  At first, the response was as expected and a bit underwhelming considering the large amount of meat that is imported into Antigua & Barbuda from Brazil; including the staple food item, chicken.
The first response came from the ministry of agriculture, which said that it was keeping a close watch on chicken imports out of Brazil following the disturbing news that Brazilian inspectors were bribed to certify meat for export that was rotten or tainted with salmonella.
After hearing that some of the biggest consumers of meat from Brazil have already moved to suspend imports over allegations that companies have been selling unsafe produce for years, we wondered why the government did not take the same swift action.  Instead they took a ‘wait and see’ approach that did not go down well with many people.  In fact, some thought that the lethargic response was the results of a strong lobby by those that would be affected the most – the importers.
To bolster the dwindling confidence level of consumers, the Veterinary & Livestock Division released a statement saying that all efforts would be made to ensure the safety of poultry imports from Brazil.  “We would also like the public to know that there are specific national and international mechanisms in place to ensure that tainted goods like these do not enter our food chain,” the statement read.
The public was also assured that all precautions and measures would be taken to guarantee that only “healthy and clean chicken” would be accepted at any port of entry.
Many people wondered aloud and questioned our small island’s ability to take measures to ensure meat safety that seemed beyond the ability of larger nations who opted to simply ban the importation.
It would have been easy to jump on the bandwagon and start criticising the approach but we had been promised an update on any pertinent developments regarding the matter so we took a ‘wait and see’ approach.
Our wait was rewarded when the Cabinet revealed that it was following the lead of its regional partners by instituting an outright ban on the importation of Brazilian meat products and chicken.  Whew!  That was a relief!  And we are very glad that Cabinet responded as quickly as it did to acknowledge the health risks and institute the ban.  No one would have wanted to see an outbreak of salmonella poisoning, or anything else, in our bit of paradise simply because someone would have decided that we could afford to take the risks.
While the Cabinet can share the credit, Information Minister Melford Nicholas said the ministry of agriculture took the lead role on the prohibition.  We wish he would have been more specific because we would like to send an extra special “thumbs up” to the drivers of this action.
So, while there are a lot of areas where the government deserves criticism, there are also areas where they deserve praise and this is certainly one of them.  If you have ever experienced serious salmonella poisoning or known someone who has, you would know why we are highlighting and praising this action.
In most cases, salmonellosis will pass without the need for treatment.  The symptoms will include diarrhoea, fever, and abdominal cramps and last four to seven days. However, diarrhoea and dehydration may be so severe that it may require a visit to the hospital.  Salmonellosis is more likely to affect older adults, infants, and those who have an impaired immune system.  Even if you only have a milder case of diarrhoea, your bowel movements may take several months before they return to normal.
In a small number of cases, there are other lingering effects, that can occur, and which may last months or years.  Of course, in very serious cases, the result could be death.  According to the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, every year, approximately 380 people die from salmonella poisoning.
The point is, the wise decision to prohibit imports may have saved us from a health issue with wide reaching implications.  From damage to our reputation, to the strain it could have inflicted on our limited health care resources, these are things that we can do without.

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