Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Chutzpah over Safety

Once again a strong chutzpah candidate has surfaced in the middle of the week. This is the first time a candidate has appeared around the unfolding sequence of stories about the safety of foods and products from China; and, according my records, the last award China received was actually shared with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States (the constitution of the "team" being part of the chutzpah). However, today's Reuters report by Ben Blanchard on the latest "official" reaction to this safety scandal has just the right level of outrageousness to merit an award:

Hyping China's food and product safety problem is a sickness in itself, the country's new health minister said on Wednesday, a day after Mattel announced a third global recall of Chinese-made toys.

That's right, eternal vigilance may be the price of freedom; but where food and product safety is concerned, it may be bad for your health! In order to reinforce the authority of this health minister, the Chinese news sources have been quick to describe him as "a Paris-trained scientist who unusually is not a member of the ruling Communist Party," which, I assume, is supposed to affirm his professional objectivity. However, if we look at his words (even allowing for subtle errors of translation), we get a different picture:

"I must remind some friends that we are certainly extremely sensitive towards this problem, but over-sensitivity caused by only seeing part of the picture, in medical terms, is called an allergy," Health Minister Chen Zhu said.

Presumably Dr. Chen was not trained as an allergist. (I certainly would not want him as my allergist; and, if that is his specialty, I just hope I never have any allergy problems while I am in Paris!)

This all has to be seen as China's latest move against the high level of media attention that this safety problem has been receiving. At one point the government seemed to have found the moral high ground when it turned out that one particular media source was a fault for circulating a bogus story. However, that "triumph" is now more than a months old; and too many other things have happened since then. Indeed, holding that moral high ground is, itself, a matter of "eternal vigilance." Undermining that sense of vigilance is not going to benefit anyone in this scandal; but the real chutzpah in this case is the resort to alleged "scientific authority" to achieve the undermining!

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