Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pearl Milk Balls

The people are all in an uproar
The talk shows are flooded with calls
From parents irate
Who cry it's too late:
"Our sons have pearl milk balls!"

The government's caught with its pants down
Unsure just where the blame falls
Or who holds the buck
For having raised up
The boys with the pearl milk balls

The "hormone" was doled out slowly
From thousands of street-side stalls
That sweet chewy drink
Was not what they think
It's given them pearl milk balls

The future it looks a bit bleaker
All swish and raucous cat calls
But who will confess
To this free-market mess
If they're packing just pearl milk balls?


Anyone new to Taiwan will immediately notice how the locals go for all things soft and chewy: chewy candy, chewy desserts, even drinks with chewy "pearls" floating in them. "Pearl milk tea" is probably the most famous of these local delicacies.

Unfortunately, researchers have recently discovered that many local companies produce these candies, desserts and jellies with the help of an emulsifier that is, well, basically plastic. This plastic emulsifier is cheaper and, not surprisingly, has a longer shelf life than natural alternatives. So Taiwan's population has unknowingly been consuming plastic as an ingredient in many of its food products: in the desserts mentioned, plus some fruit juices, plus children's chewable vitamins, syrups, and many other products too. It amounts to a huge health oversight on the part of society at large.

But how could this happen? Why wasn't this known until now? Because the government, firmly capitalist in outlook, never wanted to interfere in the free market, so there is scarce any regulatory arm. And what is the fallout of this huge ingestion of plastic? Research suggests the the plastic in question is linked to a variety of health problems, stunted male development being one, since it functions in the developing male body almost like a surrogate female hormone:

DEHP is suspected to be an endocrine disruptor, which could lead to the shrinking in size of the penis and testicles in men and thyroid dysfunction.
This is all still preliminary, but, wow, don't you just love free-market capitalism? Twenty-three million Taiwanese have been eating this stuff regularly since the 1980s, and, if my guess is right, its use in products has steadily grown over that time, most of it being in food and drinks marketed to kids. --E.M.


Reports from the Taipei Times:

Kids more Vulnerable to DEHP intake

Food Scare Leads to Massive Recalls

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