News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Milan to enforce teen drink ban

Milan to enforce teen drink ban

Italian teenagers drinking alcohol (file image)

Rising binge drinking is forcing changes to Italy’s relationship with alcohol

Milan has banned the consumption and sale of alcohol to young teenagers in an effort to curb binge-drinking.

Parents of children under the age of 16 caught drinking wine or spirits will be liable to heavy fines of up to 500 Euros ($700;£450).

A third of 11-year-olds in the city have alcohol related problems, it says.

In a country where for centuries wine has been part of local culture – and prohibition would be unthinkable – the ban has come as a shock.

But the authorities are deeply concerned about the increase in consumption of alcohol by children as young as 11 in the country’s industrial and financial capital.

So as an experiment, supplying alcohol – either wine or spirits – to youths under the age of 16 in bars, restaurants, pizza shops and liquor stores will be banned.

Heavy fines will be imposed on the parents of offending children and on shopkeepers or bar owners who serve them.

A national law banning the sale of alcohol to under-16s is only loosely enforced, as Italian families are used to sometimes giving young children a teaspoon of wine as a family party treat.

In past centuries, Italian children would sometimes even be given wine to drink in preference to water which was often polluted.

There has been a storm of protest by bar owners who refuse to act as alcohol police for young people.

But changing social customs mean that old easy-going attitudes towards consumption of alcohol in Italy will have to change.

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September 17, 2008

Tea ‘healthier’ drink than water

Tea ‘healthier’ drink than water

Image of a mug of tea

The researchers recommend people consume three to four cups a day

Drinking three or more cups of tea a day is as good for you as drinking plenty of water and may even have extra health benefits, say researchers.

The work in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition dispels the common belief that tea dehydrates.

Tea not only rehydrates as well as water does, but it can also protect against heart disease and some cancers, UK nutritionists found.

Experts believe flavonoids are the key ingredient in tea that promote health.

Healthy cuppa

These polyphenol antioxidants are found in many foods and plants, including tea leaves, and have been shown to help prevent cell damage.

Tea replaces fluids and contains antioxidants so its got two things going for it
Lead author Dr Ruxton

Public health nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton, and colleagues at Kings College London, looked at published studies on the health effects of tea consumption.

They found clear evidence that drinking three to four cups of tea a day can cut the chances of having a heart attack.

Some studies suggested tea consumption protected against cancer, although this effect was less clear-cut.

Other health benefits seen included protection against tooth plaque and potentially tooth decay, plus bone strengthening.

Dr Ruxton said: “Drinking tea is actually better for you than drinking water. Water is essentially replacing fluid. Tea replaces fluids and contains antioxidants so it’s got two things going for it.”

Rehydrating

She said it was an urban myth that tea is dehydrating.

“Studies on caffeine have found very high doses dehydrate and everyone assumes that caffeine-containing beverages dehydrate. But even if you had a really, really strong cup of tea or coffee, which is quite hard to make, you would still have a net gain of fluid.

“Also, a cup of tea contains fluoride, which is good for the teeth,” she added.

There was no evidence that tea consumption was harmful to health. However, research suggests that tea can impair the body’s ability to absorb iron from food, meaning people at risk of anaemia should avoid drinking tea around mealtimes.

Tea is not dehydrating. It is a healthy drink
Claire Williamson of the British Nutrition Foundation

Dr Ruxton’s team found average tea consumption was just under three cups per day.

She said the increasing popularity of soft drinks meant many people were not drinking as much tea as before.

“Tea drinking is most common in older people, the 40 plus age range. In older people, tea sometimes made up about 70% of fluid intake so it is a really important contributor,” she said.

Claire Williamson of the British Nutrition Foundation said: “Studies in the laboratory have shown potential health benefits.

“The evidence in humans is not as strong and more studies need to be done. But there are definite potential health benefits from the polyphenols in terms of reducing the risk of diseases such as heart disease and cancers.

“In terms of fluid intake, we recommend 1.5-2 litres per day and that can include tea. Tea is not dehydrating. It is a healthy drink.”

The Tea Council provided funding for the work. Dr Ruxton stressed that the work was independent.

Bitter taste over China baby milk

Bitter taste over China baby milk

Hebei People"s Hospital in Shijiazhuang

Parents are queuing at hospitals for check-ups for their children

China’s growing scandal involving milk powder suggests the country is still not able to protect its citizens from tainted food products.

Despite many other recent cases involving sub-standard food, inspectors failed to prevent toxic milk powder being fed to children.

Strict laws but poor enforcement appears to be part of the problem. China also seems to have a number of unscrupulous suppliers.

Chinese consumers are only too aware of the problems, as they have shown by buying more trusted foreign brands of milk powder.

Kidney failure

At the center of this current scandal is the Sanlu Group, a company based in the city of Shijiazhuang in Hebei province.

It has been selling milk powder tainted with the toxic chemical melamine, used in industry to make such things as plastics.

This chemical makes the milk powder appear to contain more protein than is actually the case.

So far, three children have died and more than 6,000 have been taken ill after drinking the powdered milk. Nearly 160 have experienced acute kidney failure.

All the children who became seriously ill drank milk made with powder produced by Sanlu, according to Chinese health minister Chen Zhu.

Wang Wenli
If there is a problem with the milk powder then there is likely to be a problem with fresh milk too
Wang Wenli, mother

But the scandal is not limited to just one company.

In a development that will surely worry the government, inspectors have found melamine in milk powder produced by 22 companies – one out of every five suppliers.

China’s laws do not seem to be the main problem, according to a senior employee at a foreign firm that produces baby products in China.

“There are laws and the laws are very strict. When we want to launch a product, there are so many things we have to do,” said the employee, who did not want to be identified.

Chinese central government officials often complain that these good laws are not heeded, a claim backed up by the industry insider.

“There is a lot of corruption, and Chinese companies can often find ways to carry on producing,” she said.

In order to avoid the problems now facing Sanlu, this foreign firm sends its own inspectors to check products bought from Chinese suppliers.

Rules bent

As well as being prepared to bend the rules, some Chinese suppliers also seem willing to knowingly supply tainted food products.

In this current case, melamine appears to have been added to fresh milk at milk collection stations, before being passed on to Sanlu.

According to the state-run China Daily, one man arrested over the scandal confessed that he had added melamine to milk, despite knowing it was a health risk.

He added that his family never drank the contaminated milk.

As a senior official put it at a press conference on Wednesday, China does not test for melamine because it does not expect anyone to add it to milk powder.

Tian Guangcai

Tian Guangcai only feeds his grandchild imported formula milk

“There are no special requirements on the inspection of toxic chemicals‚Ķ because these kinds of chemicals are not allowed to be added to food,” said Li Changjiang, head of the country’s quality watchdog.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the system comes from Chinese consumers, who have to eat and drink the products bought in markets, shops and supermarkets.

“It’s outrageous, nobody can eat anything any more,” said Tian Guangcai, who looks after his four-month-old grandchild.

Mr Tian said the child – like many other Chinese children – only drinks milk powder made by foreign companies.

Those foreign brands are now flying off the shelves.

Wang Wenli, whose three-year-old son stopped drinking milk powder last year, is now even reluctant to let him drink fresh milk.

“Think about it, if there’s a problem with the milk powder then there is likely to be a problem with fresh milk too,” she said.

The government’s reaction to a baby milk scare in 2004 shows just how difficult it is for consumers to judge what is safe to consume.

At that time, parents were told they should select one of 30 approved brands.

This latest check has revealed that products from some of those approved firms contained melamine.

September 3, 2008

Grappling with a Roma identity

Grappling with a Roma identity

It was just a passing remark, the first time I heard Arpad Bogdan talk about the Roma father who had left him in an orphanage, and wonder if he should try to find him.

Arpad Bogdan

Arpad Bogdan spent his childhood in a state orphanage

We were drinking late at night in a semi-derelict house in a Budapest side street. We had skipped over bicycles and rubbish to make our way inside. I should say this was not a doss house but a trendy Urban Minimalism club.”He doesn’t have to tell you this you know,” whispered our mutual friend, director Antonia Meszaros. And it was then that I realised how conflicted Arpad is – how much of a dilemma his Roma inheritance has created.

Arpad is a much-garlanded young film director, whose feature film Happy New Life has won many awards. It is about a young Roma man’s unbearable childhood in an orphanage. In the end, he can’t hack it – unlike Arpad who emerged from his own orphanage into the University of Pecs and a promising film career.

“My film,” Arpad says, “is about the dilemmas of someone who realises that in order to face the future, he must come to terms with his past – and that’s something that I still have to do in my own life.”

Arpad was one of thousands of Roma – or gypsy – children who were taken into orphanages during Hungary’s Communist years. The truth is cloudy here, but it seems that in some cases their parents wanted this, in many they didn’t.

Sense of identity

“In the orphanage, being Roma had no positive implications for us,” Arpad recalls. “But some of the kids were visited by their parents and they brought smells and flavours that were strange to me and even a little bit frightening.

Hungary's Roma at an Easter celebration

The Roma people are Hungary’s largest minority

“There was also something exotic and exciting about them. The smell of an open fire, the smell of freedom.”Like many of his peers, and like many people in a globalised world, Arpad is now unsure where he belongs. He certainly seems to have a stake in the metro-savvy, globalized world of Budapest’s cafes, salons and grunge clubs.

But does he also belong – at some level – in the world of Gypsy Harlem, Budapest’s District Eight? Or in the villages where he reckoned his parents must still live?

Soon after our meeting, using powers under new Hungarian laws, Arpad sets off – in our own film – to find his parents. He had a rough idea where they lived, and had set off on a voyage of discovery before, only to lose his nerve.

What he finds is extraordinary. Newly released records show his parents “liked a drink, [and] discipline their children by beating them”.

He meets a brother, Laszlo, he had never met. He learns their mother is dead. And finally, he meets his ragged, handsome dad. A new young wife hangs back, in the shadows of the garden. Some 40 dogs bark and make our film crew nervous.

‘Forgiving’

And then his dad smiles, and extends a hand, and says, “Which one are you?” He’s so charming, it is impossible to take it the wrong way.

Whether I’ll see my father again, well maybe I will, but definitely not on my own
Arpad Bogdan

He’s called Laszlo too. He was in prison for 12 years.”I had a mean punch,” he says. “I always say better be accompanied by a prison guard than a priest on your way to the cemetery. Isn’t that right?”

The elder Laszlo doesn’t see much of any of his nine children anymore. “At least you came to find me,” he says.

“As for the past, let’s pull a veil over it, we should look to the future from now on.”

Back in Budapest, Arpad must think about his own future. First he must decide what his next film is about. He’s not really in a dilemma about whether to carve a career as a “gypsy director”. He doesn’t want to be typecast.

But he is uncertain about whether to stay in touch with his dad.

“I looked at my father, into his eyes, and I suddenly felt myself forgiving him. I let him go, along with all the bad things I used to blame him for,” he says.

“After that, I could see him for what he is, I could listen to him. Whether I’ll see my father again, well maybe I will, but definitely not on my own. I will have to take someone with me, someone from my own life.”

We’ll have to wait and see what he does.

So far, he doesn’t know himself.


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