Friday, September 21, 2007

The Story may have been Bogus, but the Buns are still Bad!

Warren McCulloch used to be fond of saying, particularly in the heat of a passionate argument, "Don't bite my finger, look where I'm pointing." This may be a motto worth remembering as we discover that the contaminated Chinese bun story may still be with us. The finger-biting, in this case, surrounded the revelation that a news report about steamed buns sold by street vendors in China that were actually made from cardboard was actually bogus. However, a Reuters dispatch from Beijing this morning revealed that the finger was pointing at a serious problem that has still not been satisfactorily resolved:

An outbreak of food poisoning has put 260 kindergarten children in hospital in China, the offending meal most likely a breakfast of buns and porridge, Xinhua news agency said on Friday.

Most had recovered from Wednesday's poisoning at the kindergarten in Wuwei in the remote northwestern province of Gansu, but 16 were still seriously ill.

Food poisoning is a frequent problem at Chinese schools, especially in rural areas, where lax official supervision encourages canteen contractors to cut costs at the expense of proper hygiene and food safety.

What is most disconcerting about this report is how unsurprising it is. As readers we are well beyond waiting for the other shoe to drop, or perhaps the metaphor might be better captured by the shoes of a centipede! Last week I suggested that Chinese strategic planning had to bite the bullet and navigate a course between "the Scylla of capitalism and the Charybdis of self-serving ideology;" but current conditions seem to indicate that they are more likely to run afoul of both hazards at the same time!

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