“If You Drink It, Will Your Guts Explode?”: The Lab Tests Come Back

Moral crusades advance claims about both the gravity and incidence of a particular problem. They typically rely on horror stories and “atrocity tales” about victims in which the most shocking exemplars of victimization are described and typified. Casting the problem in highly dramatic terms by recounting the plight of highly traumatized victims is intended to alarm the public and policy makers and justify draconian solutions. At the same time, inflated claims are made about the magnitude of the problem. A key feature of many moral crusades is that the imputed scale of a problem … far exceeds what is warranted by the available evidence.

Laudo não confirma presença de soda cáustica em leite: The Estado de S. Paulo reports that testing on samples of milk from producers found to have been using banned methods for producing and packaging UHT milk does not confirm the presence of lye (caustic soda) in the product taken off the market.

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Laudos do Instituto Nacional de Criminalística (INC) divulgados ontem pela Polícia Federal atestam a adição de água, açúcar, sal, citrato, soro e outros produtos estranhos em 12 das 13 amostras de leite coletadas em duas cooperativas do triângulo mineiro, suspeitas de fraudes na produção, mas em nenhum momento confirmam categoricamente que encontraram vestígios de soda cáustica nas amostras, como vinha afirmando a polícia desde a operação Ouro Branco, desencadeada em outubro passado. Em dez das amostras, foi encontrado elevado teor de alcalinidade, indicando a presença de elementos químicos para mascarar a adição de água e a deterioração do produto pela ação de bactérias.

Technical reports from the National Criminalistics Institute (INC) published yesterday by the Federal Police indicate the addition of water, sugar, salt, sodium citrate, serum [?], and other foreign substances in 12 of the 13 samples of milk collected from two dairy coops in the Minas Triangle region that are suspected of fraud in their production. But at no time does it categorically state that traces of lye were found in the samples, as the police have been saying since Operation White Gold, conducted last October.

And what police agent was it, exactly, who made these claims and got the Judy Miller treatment — anonymous sourcing — in return for this public service from Brazil’s world-class Fourth Estate?

Globo had reported — gabblingly — that

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

Any level of lye over 0% is elevated, under the food safety standards in force here. Not surprisingly.

In 10 of the samples, high alkalinity was found, indicating the presence of chemical agents used to mask the addition of water and the deterioration of the product through the action of bacteria

Os laudos dizem que um dos causadores de alcalinidade pode ser a soda cáustica, usada para aumentar o volume de leite, mas admitem também a hipótese de que essa alteração seja provocada por citrato de sódio e outros sais, como o carbonato e o bicarbonato, além de fosfatos e cloreto de sódio. Também não comprovam o uso de água oxigenada, igualmente diagnosticado pela PF com base em análises preliminares.

The reports say that one cause of the alkalinity could be lye, used to increase the volume of the milk, but also entertain the hypothesis that the change could be caused by sodium citrate or other sales, such as carbonate or bicarbonate, as well as sodium phosphate or sodium chlorate. They also did not prove the use of hydrogen peroxide, also identified by the PF based on preliminary analysis.

No bottle-blonde chemicals either? I would have put that in the lede.

Drinking stuff, after all, can kill you, right?

According to the MiniAg FAQs, sodium citrate is a permissible additive, within limits:

The only substances that can be added to UHT milk are sodium citrate, sodium monophosphate, sodium triphosphate, separately or mixed togher, in a quantity not to exceed 0.1 grams per 100 ml of the product.


Os laudos foram produzidos a partir de amostras recolhidas nas cooperativas Copervale e Casmil, nas cidades de Uberaba e Passos. Das 13 amostras, 12 estavam impróprias para consumo, 7 delas com alto grau de deterioração ou elevada concentração de produtos que prejudicam a saúde. No caso da Copervale, as 9 amostras estavam impróprias para o consumo, 8 delas por causa do alto teor de alcalinidade. A única amostra da cooperativa que não continha elementos alcalinos estava corrompida pela adição de soro e de outros produtos estranhos à composição do leite. Além disso, os teores de carboidratos, proteínas, gorduras e sódio estavam em desacordo com as especificações do rótulo.

The reports were based on samples taken from the Copervale and Casmil coops in Uberaba and Passos, respectiely. Of the the 13 samples, 12 were inappropriate for consumption, 7 showed a high degree of deterioration or an elevated concentration of products that are harmful to health. In the case of Copervale, the 9 samples were not fit for consumption, 8 because of high alkalinity. The only sample from the cooperative that lacked alkaline elements was corrupted the addition of serum [?] and other products not part of the normal composition of milk. Further, the levels of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and sodium were not consistent with the specifications on the product label

Na Casmil, 2 das 4 amostras apresentavam alcalinidade. Em outra, foram encontrados vestígios de soro, também usado para aumentar volume, e só uma estava em perfeitas condições de consumo.

At Casmil, 2 of the 4 samples presented high alkalinity. In another, …

A PF investigou a denúncia de que a soda cáustica seria adicionada para mascarar a adição de 10% de água no leite, aumentando com isso o volume e os lucros das cooperativas, além de eliminar vestígios de deterioração. Apesar de ter confirmado a fraude ao final da Operação Ouro Branco, os laudos divulgados ontem não sustentam a acusação. A PF admite que “o INC não possui equipamentos (para fazer) as análises fundamentais” exigidas pela metodologia oficial. Por isso, os peritos encaminharam os exames para o Laboratório Nacional Agropecuário (Lanagro) de Minas, em Pedro Leopoldo, e ao Laboratório da Fundação Ezequiel Dias (Funed), em Belo Horizonte.

The PF investigated charges that lye might have been added to mask the stretching of the milk with 10% water, thus upping production and profits, as well as hiding signs of deterioration. …

Just like my grandmother used to do to make the chicken soup go further.

I am always telling my wife: Lowfat milk tastes watery.

The first time Neuza shopped in a U.S. supermarket, she came home with a carton of “half-and-half” because she assumed, from the name, that it was some sort of not quite as lowfat product. Lowfat in moderation, that sort of thing.

Boy, was she surprised when she poured it on her Sugar Smacks.

I was delighted, of course.

Neuza, my patroa and coroa, is the cream in my coffee.

Although it confirmed the fraud at the end of Operation White Gold, the reports released yesterday do not sustain the accusation.

Do not sustain the accusation that lye was used.

Do sustain the accusation that all kinds of other junk — or possibly elevated levels of permitted stuff — was likely added.

Lye will, of course, make your guts explode, in sufficient quantities. (Which are?)

Our government classifies it in Hazard Class 8:

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A liquid or solid that will cause severe damage when in contact with living tissue or, in the case of leakage will materially damage or even destroy other goods or the means of transport.

Bicarbonate of soda, of course, is often used to neutralize acids that may be eating your guts. What do they call it here? Sal de frutas? I had one of those this morning. Too much wine last evening.

The infinitely guileful communist plot to adulterate our precious bodily fluids: “Cut to: int. Burleson AFB, Ripper’s office. Mandrake examines a notepad on Ripper’s desk. It is covered with doodles and an interlocking pattern of the words Peace On Earth, and Purity Of Essence.”

Typical one-source “book report” reporting, but apparently a competent executive summary.

Still, would it kill them to get comment from interested parties and independent experts, and, given past panic-inducing coverage on the subject, work the public-interest angle (“how likely is my latté to kill me this morning?”)?

Question, for example: Does this ever happen in other countries? How do those countries handle it?

But it is, at least, an important work of nonfiction.


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