Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Mark Wignall | Bad week for bully beef

Published:Thursday | March 23, 2017 | 3:00 AM

I suspect that the per capita consumption of what North Americans call corned beef hash and we here in Jamaica call 'bully beef' reached one of its highest points in the months following the passage of Hurricane Gilbert in September, 1988.

The island was then in the throes of physical devastation and the JPS power grid was made useless for months after Gilbert had toppled light poles and plunged the nation into dark nights and no refrigeration.

This time around it is the unforced error of corruption in Brazil that has affected the well-loved and consumed staple on home soil. Brazil is one of the big producers and exporters of meat products, especially beef and we are among the approximately 150 countries it exports to, including, among many others, China, Chile and Ireland who have expressed concerns and temporarily ceased importations.

In our case, the biggest form of beef import from Brazil is the fully cooked, ground, cured corned beef in tins under well-known local labels. Local police in Brazil have unearthed corruption among those authorised to issue 'fitness labels' to beef produce. In exchange for huge sums they passed unfit, rotting produce as fit for human consumption.

Although our government has taken the safe step of recalling all tinned corned beef from the local trade, there has been the usual resistance, especially among our poorest who tend to make their judgements at 'gut level'.

"People have it in dem home and nuff a it done eat an mi nuh hear nobody dead," one young man said to me two days ago. "So, wha bout Bureau of Standards? Doah dem did haffi do test? What dat show?"

In the 1970s, I worked at a company where my duty was the examination of damaged imports into the island. The examination was for marine insurance purposes. A big importer had taken in two refrigerated containers of chicken. When I was called in, it was quite obvious that the refrigeration machinery on the sea voyage had broken down at some stage.

 

IN THE AFTERMATH

 

I called in the public health inspector and he issued a certificate of seizure and condemnation. Knowing our Jamaican people, we made adequate preparations before the contents were taken for dumping at Riverton City. Individually, the stinking but still partly frozen birds were dipped in a blue dye and something smelling like Jeyes fluid.

Clad in high water-boots we witnessed the disposal at the dump site. A front-end loader dug a ditch and then the tainted birds were dumped in. After that they were covered up with dirt, tamped down and, as far as we (the assessor, the public health department and the broker carrying the insurance) were concerned, the matter was closed and the claim accepted as a total loss.

But here is the 'fun' part. Within an hour the birds were dug out, washed, refrozen and were displayed for sale along the roadway at sections of Spanish Town Road.

One wholesaler at the time explained it to me: "Very few things can kill Jamaicans. One is dirt but only if a big pile a it drop pon top a you. And the second is gunshot. Usually more than one."

At the time we arranged for it to be widely publicised that the chicken should not be bought, but in the aftermath we suspected that both buyers and sellers 'did well'. I do not recall reading about any deaths directly related to the matter.

At present, I do not have any stock of tinned corned beef and I do not plan on purchasing any for now. I will miss cooking it with crunchy cabbage and as a delicious omelette for breakfast. At the same time, as we await the arrests of more than a few in Brazil, we are forced to question the readiness and the routine operation of the Jamaica Bureau of Standards (JBS).

It would have been most assuring if the agency had announced that it had previously, routinely carried out random testing and cleared all the tinned corned beef that was already stocked on supermarket shelves.

But of course it cannot give any such assurance. What does the JBS do routinely?

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