24 September, 2020

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Milkgate: White Does Not Always Imply Purity

By Malinda Seneviratne –

Malinda Seneviratne

Watergate is the name given to a political scandal that rocked the United States of America in the early 1970s.  It was about a break-in and a cover-up.  It led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.  The scandal also saw the indictment, trial, conviction and incarceration of 43 persons, dozens of whom were Nixon’s top administration officials.

The above is from Wikipedia.  Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for ‘Milkgate’.  The only association between ‘milk’ and ‘gate’ as of now is ‘Cow and Gate’ a UK based dairy products company.  In the case of the dairy industry, as opposed to Nixonian ‘intervention’, the only ‘break-in’ we can talk about is markets. We could, or rather we should, add ‘breaking through all cautionary safeguards of communities and individuals. And ‘cover up’ would include lulling into a false sense of security by false and exaggerated claims complemented by deliberate fear-mongering.  We could, or rather we should, add ‘purchase’, i.e. of decision-makers (politicians, clearly), approvers (scientists, doctors and their various clubs) and potential critics (media, for example, through pumping in of advertising and the threat of pulling out ads).

There is also litigation; a panel discussion on Jana Handa scheduled for tomorrow (August 12, 2013) on the subject of milk powder contamination has been shelved on the advice of lawyers since there was a court case on Fonterra.  The topic was milk powder contamination.  If that warrants a no-no, then all poisoners, big and small, can pay someone to take them to court; that would be a cheap criticism-blocker.  If that was legitimate, then a stop on advertising should be voluntarily imposed by these companies, ‘because it is in the courts’!  These companies usually schedule advertisement for long periods, 3 months, 6 months or even a year.  There are big spenders.  Having allocated, they can’t withdraw from contractual obligations.  The relevant media organization can, in the name of ethics, reimburse.  Do they? Will they?  If not, they would most certainly be less comfortable in carrying news that is to the detrimental to their ‘friendly’ and ‘generous’ clients.

Last week the Government Medical Officers Association advised the Government to ban certain milk powder brands.  This was after the Minister of Technology, Research and Atomic Energy, Patali Champika Ranawaka commissioned ITI to test for DCD in milk powder and the results turned up positive in 4 imported brands.  The Nation applauds both the GMOA and the minister, but wonders why an issue which surfaced towards the end of 2012 did not prompt immediate and decisive action by approving/screening authorities in the Ministry of Health.

The Nation encountered the issue of contamination in March 2013 during an exercise to assess the adequacy of labeling laws, which again was prompted by concern over unethical advertising.  On March 24, we revealed that contaminated milk powder may have entered the local market.  The Consumer Affairs Authority promised to investigate.  The Ministry of Health expressed concern.  We were told that samples would be tested abroad.  The report on the tests is still to be made public.

In April we moved to claims about calcium.  Milk powder companies objected; we honored their right of reply and exercised our right to dissect response.  We also investigated the health and nutritional claims of milk supplements.

There were mixed signals from health and consumer protection authorities.  Some said a man on milk powder from New Zealand was imminent.  Some said ‘cleared!’  We were not convinced.  When a qualified nutritionist took issue with some comments made by a representative of the Nutrition Society of Sri Lanka, things got even more complicated. The Nutrition Society responded, but only in part.  A set of questions put to the Society by The Nation has met with a stony silence.

Meanwhile, the issue was taken up by other sections of the media.  Interestingly, though, there was surprising reluctance to name names; ‘surprising’ because names, surnames, addresses, ethnicity and religious faith are routinely tagged to suspects of the pettiest crimes.

The Ministry of Technology Research and Atomic Energy moved, meanwhile.  When the results were out, the milk industry took cover under the test recommended by the Health Ministry, pointing out that ITI had used another method.  Nothing was said about the arbitrary nature of the ministry recommendation as well as the setting of ‘safe levels’.  Certificates from governments in countries where the milk powder came from were thrown in our faces by way of defence.

In the end the Ministry of Health did stand up.  We applaud, but only quietly.  There are many loopholes, as we pointed out above.  Even as we write, we cannot give a guarantee to the consumer that errant companies are not busy channeling milk powder meant for banned brands to back-up brands, we it were.

Now it is all out in the open.  The issue is not banning this or that product.  The issue is to set in place stringent screening mechanisms to ensure that all food products are safe for consumption.  It is about laws that are able to obtain disclosure on conflict of interest from ‘experts’, approvers and health and nutrition practitioners and advocates.

This is a war because we live in a country where it is claimed (in the year 2013, mind you) that the draft National Drug Policy ‘was misplaced’!    This is a war because children are the main target and the most vulnerable.

If ever this country required an impetus to develop the local dairy industry, this is it.  We wouldn’t have to screen important milk powder for contaminants nor wonder whether certifying authorities are above board if we drank our own milk.  Fresh.

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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      This piece on Lankanewsweb corroborates my questions. In addition, it shows the insidious role played by Malinda. SHAME that he cannot disclose his agenda. Disgraceful. [Edited out]

      “Theoreticians of the movement, racketeer in the Colombo Stock market, Dilith Jayaweera, Leader of the National Freedom Front, Minister Wimal Weerawansa and Editor of The Nation newspaper, Malinda Seneviratne have a few weeks back handed a special project report to Namal Rajapaksa.

      The report had shown the outflow of the country’s foreign exchange through the purchase of foreign milk powder and the benefits of promoting local fresh milk, which in turn would help the local farmers and the Sinhala Buddhist community. Following this move, it was Malinda Seneviratne’s The Nation newspaper that published the first report on chemical substances in milk powder. Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s Lankacnews website also commenced the campaign.”

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    In a parallel universe, a journalist worth his salt would be asking the following questions-
    1. If DCD is there in all New Zealand dairy products why is it that there is no ban on other products such as butter, yogurt, cheese etc? surely the DCD cannot vanish from those?
    2. If DCD is there in all New Zealand milk why was Nestle, which admittedly buys milk from Fonterra not tested?
    3. If the matter was truly serious should not there be an immediate stoppage of all these?
    4. Why did the ITI not test this milk if they had the capacity to test it all this while? Why were the samples being sent to other counties at great expense all this while?
    5. Why was the health ministry official not interdicted, if in fact he had supported fonterra?
    6. If the problem was with the fertilizer used in new Zealand, how is it that DCD is found in milk imported from Australia by maliban?
    7. Don’t all these point to some flaw in the testing by ITI?
    8. Particularly so, when one considers the methodological and technical queues raised by fonterra and others. Actually these were highlighted by the Sunday leader. In essence, the problems are that the companies were not given the samples tested and the test results don’t isolate DCD and therefore will give false positives.
    9. The timing of the media blitz coincided with the weliweriya incident in a typical diversionary fashion. Surely something as serious as this should have been examined much earlier.
    10. The court action taken against the milk food companies have been taken on the last day of the court session, preventing the companies from setting aside the interim orders. This kind of cloak and dagger approach when purportedly fighting for transparency and justice surely bends some questions?
    11. Why has no other country in the world banned the foods for containing DCD?
    12. Could the Nation newspaper be supporting this because this venture is being spearheaded by that champion racist among bigot champika? Because it matches the fear psychosis approach adopted against muslims and tamils?

    The truth is in this universe we can’t expect some serious journalism from the likes of Malinda as he has time and again proved that he is bereft of journalistic ethics. I challenger him to carry out a proper investigative piece on this issue.

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      The questions raised are very valid. I dont buy any of these allegations against the imported milk powder. The entire scandal sounds very very fishy and I think there’s something against the advertising companies as well. Champika’s involvement and his association with ITI, by default makes it even more fishy. Meantime our family continues to consume Anchor :)

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      In a parallel universe, this commenter would be born equipped with the IQ points that is lacking in him in this universe. With these extra IQ points he would be able to answer these questions put by himself thus –

      1. If DCD is there in all New Zealand dairy products why is it that there is no ban on other products such as butter, yogurt, cheese etc? surely the DCD cannot vanish from those?

      That DCD is there in ALL New Zealand dairy products is not a definitive claim put forward by any party in the scenario. They could not seriously do so because ALL New Zealand dairy product batches have not been tested. There is no ban on any New Zealand dairy product IN TOTO including milk powder (only a temporary ban on advertising by Fonterra). The representative stocks (from which the tested samples were taken) have been recalled. To quote a local News report;

      “The Health Ministry today notified all milk powder suppliers whose products were suspected to contain dicyandiamide (DCD) to recall these stocks of milk powder from sales outlets with immediate effect and until further notice.”- http://www.dailymirror.lk/top-story/33498-anchor-maliban-and-diamond-milk-powder-off-the-shelves.html

      For Fonterra what this means is a mere recall of two batches (40 tonnes) from the market, which according to them is not that significant in terms of volume;

      From Fonterra CEO Theo Spierings –
      “We’re talking about two batches, we’re talking about 40 tonnes, so it is in terms of volume not that significant, but at the same time they have also told us that advertising around the brand it not allowed.”- http://tvnz.co.nz/business-news/fonterra-recalls-batches-milk-powder-in-sri-lanka-5531011

      The reason why there is no blanket ban on all NZ dairy products including butter, cheese, yoghurt, etc and only this ‘insignificant’ recall of a mere 40 tonnes is because the Health Ministry wants to be cautious and stay within the letter of the law. A Health ministry official explains this caution thus;

      “Dr. Jayathilaka pointed out that this was a multibillion dollar industry, where the competition is ‘cutthroat’. Therefore, if one company falls, the others stand to make huge profits. As such, one has to move carefully since companies are not averse to ‘hitting below the belt’ to take advantage of a situation, he opined.
      “There needs to be a critical analysis of all the facts. We will work in consultation with everyone and come to a decision,” he stressed.”- http://www.nation.lk/edition/latest-top-stories/item/19663-milk-powder-importers-lied.html

      But the consumers do not have to abide by these legalistic cautions. The Nation has warned them to be as careful as they like of their own skins

      “It is also a well known fact that milk powder is used in the manufacturing of other products such as yogurt, ice cream, and certain milk chocolates.” – http://www.nation.lk/edition/latest-top-stories/item/19663-milk-powder-importers-lied.html

      “There are many loopholes, as we pointed out above. Even as we write, we cannot give a guarantee to the consumer that errant companies are not busy channeling milk powder meant for banned brands to back-up brands, we it were.”-The article above

      2. If DCD is there in all New Zealand milk why was Nestle, which admittedly buys milk from Fonterra not tested?

      I don’t know. Maybe Nestle was too much of a hybrid (local milk +imported milk) and therefore not a good case study cable of yielding a decisive result.

      “Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communication of Nestle Lanka PLC, Bandula Egodage, said that if a ban is to be imposed they will be somewhat effected. However since 80% of their milk products are produced by milk collected from Sri Lanka the impact of the ban may not affect Nestle as much as it might affect other major milk powder importers. “We are the biggest private sector milk collector in Sri Lanka. However since 20% of our milk products are made from imported milk. As we have tested these imported milk in our laboratories and outside laboratories we are confident that there isn’t a trace of DCD in them.
      We have even tested the imported milk under the supervision of the Health Ministry. What we can say is that there is no DCD in our milk products but if the ban is imposed then we too might face complications, he said.”- http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=business/dcd-puts-milk-powder-dilemma

      3. If the matter was truly serious should not there be an immediate stoppage of all these?

      Yes there should be perhaps. But only a substandard intellect will take bureaucratic caution as an indication of lack of seriousness

      4. Why did the ITI not test this milk if they had the capacity to test it all this while? Why were the samples being sent to other counties at great expense all this while?

      Who knows lack of initiative perhaps?

      5. Why was the health ministry official not interdicted, if in fact he had supported fonterra?

      The interdiction or failure to interdict obstructing officials has no bearing on issues. People are often saved by insider cliques.

      6. If the problem was with the fertilizer used in new Zealand, how is it that DCD is found in milk imported from Australia by maliban?

      Only a minute examination of the supply chain can reveal this. “DCD Fertilizer was not used in Australia. Therefore Australian milk powder can’t contain DCD”, is not an absolute given to be used to question the accuracy of a test. Only a sub standard intellect will do such a thing. There are several absolute givens that can be used in that way such as “The earth exercises a force called gravity on all objects”. “DCD Fertilizer was not used in Australia. Therefore Australian milk powder can’t contain DCD” is not such a given.

      7. Don’t all these point to some flaw in the testing by ITI?

      No unfortunately what all these point to is a flaw in THIS COMMENTER’S reasoning process and data collecting.

      8. Particularly so, when one considers the methodological and technical queues raised by fonterra and others. Actually these were highlighted by the Sunday leader. In essence, the problems are that the companies were not given the samples tested and the test results don’t isolate DCD and therefore will give false positives.

      Fonterra will raise issues. It’s their interest. Let’s see how they rise to the challenge;

      “But Fonterra’s Chief Executive said the product was clean and safe and it was contesting the Sri Lankan results and the ban.
      “We are definitely fighting it, because we have clear certificates – DCD-free, stamped, when it was exported, when it was imported – all clear,” Theo Spierings told Television New Zealand.
      He said Fonterra’s own testing and that of independent bodies had shown the milk powder was safe.
      Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health, however, said it has solid evidence to prove the presence of DCD.
      “The tests were done bthe y Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) of Sri Lanka and they have submitted a report on this. That is the evidence we have. We can prove it in the case of a legal battle,” a Health Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.”- http://www.ft.lk/2013/08/13/nzs-fonterra-pulls-dcd-milk-powder-in-sri-lanka-disputes-test/

      9. The timing of the media blitz coincided with the weliweriya incident in a typical diversionary fashion. Surely something as serious as this should have been examined much earlier.

      Bureaucratic inaction does not indicate lack of seriousness. Only a substandard intellect argues this way.

      10. The court action taken against the milk food companies have been taken on the last day of the court session, preventing the companies from setting aside the interim orders. This kind of cloak and dagger approach when purportedly fighting for transparency and justice surely bends some questions?

      No comment

      11. Why has no other country in the world banned the foods for containing DCD?

      There have been widespread concern though. Widespread concern among the public does not always translate into bureaucratic action though. Here in SL it has due to a vigilante media.

      “In February, the presence of DCD in low levels in some Fonterra products was announced, four months after the chemical was detected, causing widespread concern in China and Taiwan.
      It is said to pose no health threat to humans in small quantities but is no longer used in New Zealand fertilizer”.- http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/12/business/global/new-zealand-dairy-giant-pulls-milk-powder-from-sri-lanka.html

      12. Could the Nation newspaper be supporting this because this venture is being spearheaded by that champion racist among bigot champika? Because it matches the fear psychosis approach adopted against muslims and tamils?
      The truth is in this universe we can’t expect some serious journalism from the likes of Malinda as he has time and again proved that he is bereft of journalistic ethics. I challenger him to carry out a proper investigative piece on this issue.

      TRUTH is for a long time The Inter Parallel Universe Task Force For Detecting Substandard Intellects (TIPUTFFDSI) have had its eyes on this commenter Sulaiman who exhibits his substandard intellect and faulty reasoning and poor knowledge all over these comment spaces. But we have not had time to sink our teeth into him before this.

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        Lovely. A perfect display of the sleight of hand that is employed by Malinda. Clearly the TIPUTFFDSI gives marks only for deviousness.

        My original comment sets out lines of inquiry that a proper journalist ought to have taken if his/her intention was to arrive at the truth. They raise questions that need to be investigated and answered. Not dodged with answers like “who knows”, “bureaucratic inaction” or “no comment”. In fact, The Sunday Leader article last week carried different points of view and raised most of the questions that I had listed. It allowed readers to make up their mind.

        Malinda on the other hand is playing the role of a crusader not a journalist. Of course, journalists may support a cause, but their primary obligation should be to present an accurate picture as far as possible. The TIPUTFFDSI follows in Malinda’s insidious tradition (including his linguistic style). Given the congruence of purpose and form, will refer to TIPUTFFDSI as Malinda henceforth.

        1. Query: Why is there no ban on all products that contain milk powder?

        Malinda Response: Not all products have been tested. Only a few. Therefore the Health Ministry is proceeding slowly.

        Further Queries raised: Umm – doesn’t that miss the point of the question? Why is it that only milk powder is being tested? Why is the Ministry not testing all dairy products? Surely if the ITI is equipped it should be testing all of these? Why is that the Ministry has not warned the public? On the contrary the Health Ministry was satisfied with the tests carried out at independent laboratories and pooh-poohed the ITI’s so called capabilities, until it was pressured by Champika’s little troops. (More on this below). The underlying point is there seems to be something suspicious when there is all sorts of alarmist ranting about milk powder and hardly a peep about or even testing, leave alone banning, of other dairy products which use the same ingredient. A journalist who fails to even consider this is not worth his salt or is deviously pushing an agenda (guess what I think Mali boy is doing?!)

        Note further that the reference to Nation’s comment that Milk powder will be channeled to “other brands” is not the same as channeling to other “products”. Nice sleight of hand though.

        2. Query: Why wasn’t Nestle tested even though it contains milk from Fonterra?

        Malinda Response: “I don’t know” !!!! May be it was not a good “case study’ because it was too much of a hybrid.

        Further Queries: Duh – if you don’t know find out. That is what a good journalist would do!! Not a good “case study”?!!! What was this some college thesis?!!! This is about food safety, dude – you test all products that are likely to be contaminated.

        3. Query: If the matter is serious shouldn’t all these be stopped?

        Malinda Response: Bureaucratic caution doesn’t mean lack of seriousness.

        Further Query: The point is that the bureaucracy has spoken in different voices. As pointed out above there is no rationale for the selectivity in relation to the testing of products and brands. In those circumstances is it not rationale to question whether the hype is actually warranted? Whether there is in fact a serious issue to be considered or whether this is something that is manufactured?

        4. Query- If ITI had the capacity why were the Milk powders being sent abroad at great expense?

        Malinda Response- “Who knows” !!! “Lack of initiative perhaps?”

        Further Query – Wow. That is exactly my point – a good journalist would make it his business to know – not throw his arms up in the air and say “who knows”. This line of inquiry is particularly important when examining point No. 6 as well, as it throws serious doubt on the capacity of ITI.

        5. Query: Why was the health ministry official not interdicted, if in fact he had supported fonterra?

        Malinda Response: The interdiction or failure to interdict obstructing officials has no bearing on issues. People are often saved by insider cliques.

        Further Query: Of course it is relevant. If some health ministry officials are obstructionist – how does the public know which ones are obstructionist and which aren’t? How do we know whether ITI was urging Champika’s agenda and that the original Health Ministry Officials were carrying out the proper procedures? The only way a Ministry can reassure the public that they are now following the correct course of action is to take steps against errant or corrupt officers. The failure to do so raises questions about the validity of the current position. The failure to question that demonstrates the inability (or as I suspect the unwillingness) of Malinda to carry out proper research.

        6. Query: If the problem was with the fertilizer used in new Zealand, how is it that DCD is found in milk imported from Australia by maliban?

        Malinda Response: DCD not used in Australia therefore milk cannot contain DCD is not a given.

        Further Query: Has Malinda researched the methods by which DCD can get into milk powder? The point is not whether it is a given but whether Malinda has exercised due diligence in his inquiry. A more pertinent point is that this raises questions about the testing methodology. Since there is a strong relationship between the fertilizer and DCD (even assuming it is not a given) this corroborates the position taken by the University of Queensland expert brought in by Fontera who says that there is a high chance of false positives by the test methodology employed by ITI. A good journalist (or even an average journalist without agendas) would have seen this as a possible explanation.

        7. Query: Don’t all these point to some flaw in the testing by ITI?

        Malinda’s Response: No unfortunately what all these point to is a flaw in THIS COMMENTER’S reasoning process and data collecting.

        Further Query: Some brass to talk about reasoning and data collecting after trotting out answers like “who knows” and “no comment”!!!

        8. Query: Fonterra raised several issues on the testing methodology and Sunday Leader highlighted these.

        Malinda’s response: Fonterra will raise issues as it is in its interest to do so.

        Further Query: Umm, shouldn’t you as a journalist, highlight their positions clearly as well, and let the reader decide? Shouldn’t you at least explain their questions? This is not some inquisition – as a journalist you are expected to place cogent arguments before the court of public opinion. Not place selective material only.

        9. Query: The timing of the Media blitz coincided with the Weliwiriya massacre?

        Malinda Response- Bureaucratic inaction is not lack of seriousness.

        Further Query- A holistic approach to reporting will teach Malinda to connect the dots. See the patterns. To see motives. To understand the selective testing of products. To understand the selective testing of brands. To understand the incongruities in the findings. Unless he has the worst blindness – that is he will not see.

        10. Query: The timing of the Court action was suspicious.

        Malinda Response: “No comment”!!!

        Further Query: See response in 9. Learn to connect the dots.

        11. Query: Why has it not been banned in any other country?

        Malinda Response: Vigilant media in Sri Lanka.

        Further Query: Ha Ha- really good one. Unwittingly though Malinda lets one slip – One would have expected food safety to be determined not by the media but by the authorities- for it is they who have the capacity and testing mechanisms. By attributing the origin of the ban to the Media, Malinda is virtually admitting that this is a media driven circus.

        12. Query: Is there a link between Malinda and Champika (the bigger bigot)?

        Malinda Response: We have been keeping an eye on Sulaiman and waiting to sink their teeth into him.

        Further Query: Oooh. I’m terrified, stupefied and petrified by you. I hope you are not going to send a inter universe white van through your warp(ed) drive.

        P.s. this also implies that Malinda was unable to respond to the previous comments by me. Thanks.

        S

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    WHO recommends that all babies be breastfed exclusively for six months,and then additional foods may be added gradually until two years of age.
    Cowmilk is not mentioned.
    http://www.who.int/features/qa/21/en/index.html
    Our mothers and grandmothers fed us and our parents on breastmilk for two years while we were gradually weaned on additional rice and curry from age one.
    Cow milk is meant for calves and not for human babies.
    Cow milk products entered the world market in about the fifties.
    Milk companies have brainwashed world citizens into feeding babies and children with cowmilk.
    Even old ladies are reportedly drinking milk!

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      Forgot to add that nutrients and antibodies present in breastmilk are absent in breast milk.
      Professors of Pediatrics never recommend cowmilk for babies.

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        Sorry ……..are absent in cowmilk.

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    Sulaiman, you have raised some valid points. As for Malinda, well what else can he do? He is paid to write trash.

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    I agree with Sulaiman. Malinda should be ashamed of creating such a fear psychosis amongst the consumers. I also challenge him to take up the valid points raised by Suleiman and conduct an impartial and unbiased investigation into this matter.
    As always, he can only spew forth the hatred of his ideologies and display ignorance in tow with cohorts like Bigot Champika and Wimal.
    I wonder how much he got paid off this time to divert attention on behalf of Weliveriya, Grandpass and every other attack on a church or mosque.

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    Someones arm being twisted for commission. It has happened with milkpowder imports before.

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    Nice to know that ‘The Nation’ has done it’s bit of public service.

    It is good that some action has been taken to verify whether the milk is fit for human consumption.

    Unfortunately the Sri Lankan Government has less credibility than New Zealand Milk at this time. When the people were fired upon and killed in Weliveriya and Katunayake, when BBS, Sinhala Ravaya, Ravana Balaya, were unleashed on churches and mosques, when the 18thA was shoved down our throats, when the CJ was removed without due process, when corruption, thuggery, extortion and murder were facilitated, the government never gave a tuppence whether they were fit for human consumption. We are so choked now it may be better to blink out with a tasty drink of DCD!

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      :)

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