Recent Melamine Scare Grossly Blown Out Of Proportion, Forum Told

Recent Melamine Scare Grossly Blown Out Of Proportion, Forum Told

SUBANG JAYA, Dec 17 (Bernama) — The recent health scare
caused by the contamination of melamine in biscuits manufactured in
Malaysia was grossly “blown out of proportion”, damaging the
RM1.3-billion industry virtually beyond repair, a forum here was told.

Newspaper headlines about “toxic biscuits” caused losses of RM112
million since the scare started in September and would cost the
industry over RM400 million before biscuit makers can expect to recover
from the fiasco.

Datuk Dr Neoh Soon Bin, managing director of the Penang-based Soon
Soon Group, said that though the Health Ministry was able to contain
the scare before more damage was done, the melamine incident once again
exposed the critical need for Malaysia to adopt a holistic approach in
dealing with food safety.

“What we saw was a knee-jerk reaction but which has caused
sleepless nights, especially to mothers as to whether the biscuits that
their babies had taken were safe. No one was injured by the melamine
contamination but Malaysia’s reputation as a biscuit manufacturer has
in the process gone down the drain,” he said.

Dr Neoh told the forum yesterday that a task force comprising
representatives from the food industry, the Health Ministry, consumer
groups, the media and other stakeholders was necessary for effective
crisis management of future health crises arising from food products.

He said all parties concerned should get their act together to
enable quick decisions to be made based on the right information and
for the media to disseminate such information to the public quickly,
too, to avoid panic and other unwarranted situations.

“It is critical to provide accurate information and inform the
public that melamine is not toxic unless in large doses,” said Dr Neoh,
who argued that melamine contamination per se was not actually a big
issue compared to the larger picture — that of toxic contamination of
food products given the rampant use of pesticides in agriculture.

“The real issue is toxic contamination of food. The real issue is
food poisoning, especially of children in the rural areas due to the
absence of a holistic approach in tackling matters related to the food

“I can tell you the problem of food poisoning can be really
frightening, such as related to the use of pesticides. This is one
issue which our National Food Safety Council should look into,
including offences related to the use of pesticides” he said.

In the case of melamine contamination in Malaysian-made biscuits,
he said it was due to the ammonium bicarbonate imported from China
which was used as a leavening agent.

Melamine, an organic compound, is never meant to be a food
ingredient but is added to a food product to make it appear that it has
a higher protein content than what it actually contains.

Melamine contamination can also occur as a result of unintentional
cross contamination from processing plants. China is the world’s
largest exporter of melamine.

Dr Neoh said the frenzy among many countries to farm out products
to China due to cheap labour and globalisation of food had also led to
food safety being set aside in favour of lowering costs.

“Everybody is making products in China. The globalisation of food has increased the risks while lowering the costs.

“Likewise, people want to make the cheapest toys in China, driving
the makers to use parts found to contain toxics. So also in the case of
milk products,” he added.

He said that besides the biscuit industry, the China-related
melamine contamination also hit Malaysia’s wheat flour market which was
expected to suffer losses estimated at RM90 million in the next six

“Suppliers of other products such as sugar, shortening, milk
powder, snack foods and confectionery are also adversely affected.”

Dr Neoh said it would take the local biscuit industry at least one year to recover.