The Globo Viewer as Homer Simpson: “Terrified Consumers Continue to Guzzle Suspicious Milk!”

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Brazilian milk in a box: Might it make your guts explode?

Mesmo assustados, consumidores compram leite longa vida: “Though frightened, consumers continue to buy UHT milk.”

That is a bit like saying,

“Though shocked badly, Homer Simpson continued to stick his tongue in the light socket repeatedly.”

The reason that this is funny in episode after episode of The Simpsons is the exaggeration of Homer’s stupidity beyond the limits of reality.

Because, in terms of the theory of “narrative theory,” Homer’s behavior, like the story Globo is spinnig here, lacks all verisimilitude.

In behaviorist terms, we say that an organism is fearful when we observe it engaging in avoidance behavior or showing signs of stress.

I am afraid of heights, for example. And I can prove it.

If you try to drag me up to a high place, you will see me resisting, both verbally and physically. I may even call you bad names. For which I apologize in advance.

And if you do manage get me up there, measure my heart-rate. You will find that my organism is preparing itself to beat you up if you try to prevent it from returning to ground level. Not that I would, mind you. I do have some self-control. But my “fight or flight” circuit has definitely, and measurably, kicked in.

All of which is actually beside the point: The report, bylined generically to G1/Globo, provides no hard evidence for either claim:

  1. That consumers are “frightened” or “alarmed” — of the three consumers interviewed for this segment, not one is actually quoted reporting their emotional state as “frightened” — or
  2. that UHT sales are unaffected — if that is what we are supposed to understand by “continue to buy.”

The Folha de S. Paulo reported the other day, for example, that milk sales were off 10%, based on hard data from grocery chains and distributors.

Milk-selling types of people were quoted saying this was expected, citing how the numbers behaved in similar cases before. This is predictable avoidance behavior, in other words.

On that theory, if a large proportion of consumers were really “alarmed,” then they would be avoiding buying milk in much greater numbers, you would think.

Suspeita é de que parte do leite vendido no Brasil tenha níveis elevados de soda cáustica. Segundo a Anvisa, lotes com problemas já foram interditados e retirados das prateleiras.

The suspicion is that part of the milk sold in Brazil has elevated levels of lye. According to Anvisa, lots of UHT milk with problems have already been interdicted and taken off the shelves.

“The suspicion is”?

Whose suspicion?

The Ag ministry has actually now reported, officially, for example, that no lye was found in any of the milk being produced under conditions that violated food-safety regulations, which was removed from the market.

Should we doubt their word?

If so, why?

The Radiobras report, which I will show you shortly, does suggest that this may be a frequent practice, citing a food safety expert.

The question of how frequent it might be still needs clarifying. Hence the nationwide testing.

It has also been widely reported that these substandard practices pose no imminent danger to one’s health.

A suspeita de que parte do leite longa vida comercializado no Brasil contenha níveis elevados de soda cáustica e água oxigenada assustou os consumidores, mas ainda não os afastou das prateleiras.

The suspicion that part of the UHT milk sold in Brazil might contain elevated levels of lye and bleach has frightened consumers, but has not yet scared them away from the shelves.

The only acceptable level of lye and bleach in UHT milk is 0%, according to the MiniAg.

Again, who has this suspicion? No one interviewed for this article explicitly says they suspect this.

“Não pretendo parar de tomar”, diz a engenheira civil Nadja Andrade. Ela confessa, no entanto, ter se assustado com o problema.

“I do not intend to stop drinking it,” said civil engineer Nadja Andrade. She confesses however, to being alarmed at the problem.

Here, a G1 “see also” link.

“Estou acompanhando as notícias. Se essa história se agravar, vou passar a tomar leite pasteurizado”, diz.

“I am following the news. If things get worse, I will start drinking pasteurized milk,” she said.

Is that what constitutes a confession of being “alarmed”? The woman does not describe herself as “alarmed.” Predicating mental states of persons who do not report themselves as having those states is what I tend to call “ventriloquism.” A common practice of the purveyors of viciously slanted nonsense.

We, meanwhile, here at home, in São Paulo, have pretty much exactly the same attitude as that lady just expressed.

I, for example, have now read and viewed what I think is reliable information on the issue, and even talked to the manager at the local store.

I am not alarmed. I am drinking cafe com leite right now. Plenty of leite.

I just interviewed my wife as well.

“Are you alarmed?” I asked, in my weird Portuguese.

“Alarmed?” she said, putting her spoon back down into her bowl of soggy cornflakes. “No.”

“Well, then, what is your emotional state about the milk crisis, darling?”

“Well, I am a little bit pissed off that these people are trying to convince me there is a crisis, mostly. First you hear there is nothing to worry about, then you hear different. Somebody is trying to jerk me around here.”

Rough translation.

“Eu estou preocupada, porque nós ficamos de braços cruzados, sem saber o que fazer”, diz Bárbara Fraga. “Ainda não sei qual leite vou comprar”.

“I am worried, because we are here with our arms crossed, without knowing what to do,” said Bárbara Fraga. “I still do not know what milk I am going to buy.”

Is preocupada synonymous with assustada? Is “concern” as strong as an emotion as “fear” or “alarm”?

We just asked our local shopkeeper for advice.

Mesmo continuando a comprar, o consumidor está mais atento. “Olhei a fabricação, para ver se o leite não vinha de Minas Gerais, que foi onde acharam o problema. Estou comprando leite que vem do sul”, diz o designer Bruno Lozich.

Even though they are continuing to buy, consumers are paying more attention. “I look at the label to make sure the milk does not come from Minas Gerais, where the problem was found. I am buying milk that comes from the South,” said designer Bruno Lozich.

Where were these consumers interviewed, by the way? When?

Apesar da desconfiança dos consumidores, a Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária afirma que, nos níveis encontrados, as substâncias químicas não apresentam risco iminente à saúde. Segundo a agência, os produtos com problemas já foram interditados e retirados das prateleiras.

Despite the wariness of consumers, the National Health Inspection Agency (ANVISA) says that, at the levels found, the chemical substances do not present an imminent health risk. According to the agency, the products with problems have already been interdicted and taken off the shelves.




The one-word subheading means (Houaiss, which is actually not that great a dictionary):

1. situação que causa incômodo a outrem; contratempo
2. situação imprevista e desfavorável; contrariedade, decepção
3. leve perturbação orgânica

A situation that causes discomfort to someone else; a contratemps. An unforeseen and unfavorable situation; disappointment, irritation; a slight organic disturbance [or medical “disorder”].

Para os consumidores, a desconfiança com relação ao leite de caixinha, o UHT, também traz transtornos. “Eu escolho o leite que tomo pela validade. Vai dar trabalho se tiver que comprar todo dia”, diz o publicitário Leonardo Marchetti.

For consumers, their lack of trust with respect to “boxed,” or UHT milk, also brings irritation. “I choose the kind of milk my drink for the shelf-life. It is going to take some extra effort if I have to buy milk every day,” said advertising professional Leonardo Marchetti.

A engenheira Nadja também vê com preocupação a hipótese de ter que parar de comprar o leite longa vida: “o consumo na minha casa são quatro litros por dia. Se não puder comprar leite com validade maior, vai ser um problema”. “A solução seria comprar uma vaca”, ironiza.

Nadja also sees some concerns in the possibility of having to stop buying UHT milk: “At my house we consume four liters a day. If I cannot buy milk with a longer shelf-life, there is going to be a problem.”

Four liters? What is the lady bringing up over there? Octuplets?

“Maybe the solution is going to be to buy a cow,” she jokes.

Then your milk production would not be pasteurized at all, and the labor-costs of production and risk-management much, much higher.

What is the actual risk that UHT milk will no longer be available?

If it is not very high, as the government is reassuring us, then why is the “what will you do if ..?” question even relevant?

This article provides no information to suggest that the government’s information is not reliable, but uses ventriloquism to suggest that consumers are behaving as though they do not trust its information, or have not received it.

Cuidados na compra

Precautions when buying

Segundo a Fundação Procon de São Paulo, o consumidor pode verificar, na hora da compra, se o produto não faz parte dos lotes interditados pela Anvisa (clique aqui para ver quais são).

According to Procon consumer advocacy foundation of São Paulo, consumers can check whether the product comes from one of the lots interdicted by ANVISA at the moment of purchase (click here to see which they are.)

This is likely to be a useless thing to do, since ANVISA really has interdicted those lots, which were published by other news organizations as soon as they were announced — days ago.

If there is one element of uncertainty remaining, it is whether there might be other lots of milk out there that might have the same or similar problem.

The Ag ministry believes that this was an isolated case of substandard practice, but there is a nationwide check going on, out of an abundance of caution. This is what I understand at this point. Results to be announced soon. Stay tuned.

A entidade também recomenda que o comprador verifique a data de validade e que não leve para casa produtos com a embalagem amassada ou adulterada. Se sentir alguma diferença no aspecto, sabor ou odor, o consumidor deve procurar a Vigilância Sanitária.

The agency also recommends checking the “good until” date and not buying products with rumpled or damaged packaging. In the case a difference in the appearance, flavor, or odor is noted, the consumer should contact the health inspector.

The ministry of agriculture informs, in its FAQs on the issue:

The fraud detected in the lots of milk that were seized does not cause changes in the characteristics of the milk, such as odor, color, flavor or consistency. Even so, if consumers do perceive some different quality in the product, they should call the Ministry, 7 days a week, from 8 am to 8 pm, at this toll-free number.

There are several features that make this typical Globo “journalism”:

  1. Ventiloquism: Attribution of strong emotions to subjects who do not themselves express such emotions
  2. The “one-sparrow spring” generalization: Based on three consumer interviews, Globo announces a trend in public opinion. Credible reporting on this issue, meanwhile, tends to assume that, if sales are (measurably) down (as expected), that dip in sales might be due to some consumer anxiety or uncertainty. A really thorough test of that hypothesis — which seems reasonable enough — would be to do some valid market research on consumer attitudes toward UHT milk at this point. Lacking that, it might be credibly inferred that sales volumes reflect the degree of avoidance behavioron the part of consumers.
  3. Empty didacticism (“appearing helpful”): Checking the appearance, flavor and odor of the product is useless; the problem cannot be detected this way. What matters is that the viewer feel that Globo identifies with them emotionally, and wants to help them. Even if the gesture is an empty one, even omitting important information.
  4. Emotionalism: Interview subjects are asked about their feelings, not their knowledge or reasoning. If the feelings expressed are not sufficiently hysterical, they are exaggerated through the use of (1) ventriloquism.
  5. Rumor-mongering language, such as “the suspicion is.”

You see this a lot in the New Journalism these days: The informational content is secondary to the attempt at eliciting an emotional reaction and identification from the viewer or reader.

“You are terrified, and we are here to commiserate with your terror — which our coverage is designed to provoke and intensify.”

See also

Secondary to such a degree that it no longer makes any difference whether (1) the information being presented is relevant or accurate, and (2) whether the narrative being constructed makes any sense at all, given the general facts of human nature.

In other words, at Globo, the news is just another form of soap opera.

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The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

I am actually working (gradually) on building up a library of “journalism theory” on certain tendencies of the “new narrative journalism” that glosses these practices well.

Because I am not just making off-hand observations here.

These sorts of practices actually follow the manual.


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