Twenty people died across Canada two years ago when meat-slicing machines at Maple Leaf Foods contaminated the production line and set off a listeriosis outbreak. This summer, salmonella traced to contaminated eggs made 2,000 people sick in the US. And Britain's Health and Safety Executive routinely hauls out rats and cockroaches from London's Chinese and Indian restaurants on live TV, not to mention the rat-in-a-bread-loaf disgrace of 2005.
The mission of feeding the world has never been fully hygienic. But it becomes downright filthy when jingoism is added to the mix. The recent juice jolt in Nepal could have been triggered by something as mundane as a nail piercing a juice carton, shipments stored in a damp warehouse, a mouldy fruit on a conveyer belt, a disgruntled employee chucking a scrap into the production line, or a combination of all these. But apparently it is wiser to suppose than to find out exactly what happened. All those wedged in this whirl are now poster boys for a textbook on idiocy.
First, the media went into a frenzy with cherry-picked facts. I wonder if any journalist bothered spending some time in Dabur's factory in Rampur to learn if the juice scare could be traced back to the production line. Some declared war on the company, some sensitised the public, and some just chose to hug the honey pot. The lack of rigorous investigation was appalling.
Then there was the company management. If you get into a fight, you don't go running to your daddy. That's cool only when you're in elementary school.
Take the 'Pepsi panic' in the US back in 1993. A pensioner tampered with a can of diet Pepsi by putting a syringe into it. The media picked up the story, dozens of copycats replicated the hoax across the country, and Pepsi faced a catastrophe. But they simply involved the Food and Drug Administration, traced the tampering, and came out with a full page advert in newspapers over a summer weekend that said, "Pepsi is pleased to announce Önothing." The public were handed out drink coupons with a slogan, "Thanks, America."
No one expects Dabur to be that classy and imaginative. But involving the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control to look into its production facility and asking for a clean chit from the government; asking the Nepal-India Chamber of Commerce and Industries to help with damage control; taking the media on a fact-finding trip; and putting across the message that a company of that scale would never mess about with the health of the people who help it to make a profit would surely have saved the company from the mess it is in today.
The government, as one would expect, never got off its sorry ass to find out if Dabur's recklessness was actually to blame. If they had, the ones responsible could have been brought to book and charged with criminal negligence, sending across the image of a responsive bureaucracy. And if Dabur was found to be clean, the government, which pays itself a salary with the money from tax paid by companies like Dabur, should have protected the company with all its might from the sustained slurs.
Then there is Lainchaur's abundance of folly and total lack of finesse. They say a diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip. Someone there could clearly do with a copy of Diplomacy for Dummies if there is one, if their own 'how to screw up' guide to diplomacy has not yet gone to the press, that is.
Sifting through newsprint consignments, switching between being an ambassador and a spokesperson for a private company, and attempting to preach to the Nepali media was all a little bit of diplomatic comedy gone stale. But it went beyond funny when a politician was threatened with his life and a girl's education was used as leverage.
India builds us hospitals and helps us save lives. India also builds us roads so that our farmers can sell their fresh vegetables in the market. India builds us schools in out-of-the-way villages so that our girls end up in classrooms instead of Kathmandu's dance bars. All that and more, while romantic Europeans are busy brooding over inclusive democracy with their handpicked native flatterers over a bottle of Chardonnay in Kathmandu's swish hotels.
But the loathing India evokes in the minds of many Nepalis is once more at peak levels. Our politicians simply do not have the intellectual capacity to strategise relations with a country we should have been best of friends with. So it comes down to the louts at Lainchaur. Someone there is clearly not doing the job right. Is it time for Mr. Sood to go back for good?