Fri, 23 Feb 2001

Govt told to inform public where to buy anthrax-free beef

JAKARTA (JP): In a bid to ease public anxiety following an outbreak of anthrax in Bogor, the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) demanded on Thursday that the government take decisive measures in a display of accountability.

The foundation's chairwoman, Indah Suksmaningsih, said in a statement that it was the government's responsibility to provide transparent information on markets and slaughterhouses that could supply anthrax-free beef and goat meat, as well as inform the public of areas prone to the disease.

"The government -- in this case the Directorate General of Husbandry at the Ministry of Agriculture and the Directorate General of Communicable Disease Control and Environmental Health at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare -- should ensure the information reaches consumers," Indah said.

She said YLKI, following the controversy over the halal status of Ajinomoto monosodium glutamate, was concerned about inadequate guarantees for people to consume safe food, despite the existence of laws and related regulations regarding the matter.

"In turns out that consumers remain a victim of inadequate protection," she said.

The anthrax furor escalated after the Bogor health office confirmed early this week that 20 residents of Hambalang village in Citeureup district had been infected with the disease. Two of them died.

The disease spreads through direct skin contact with an infected animal, by consuming infected meat or by inhaling anthrax-contaminated air. Symptoms of anthrax include skin lesions, queasiness, vomiting, high fever and respiratory problems.

Indah also called on related professionals, particularly veterinarians, doctors, husbandry and public health experts, to provide free examination of beef and goat meat.

A quick response is demanded from the House of Representatives, Indah said, in that it should review all regulations related to the protection of food consumers.

She further urged consumers to be careful in choosing markets which sell beef and other meat and join forces in demanding the protection of their rights.

The head of the Jakarta health office, Achmad Haryadi, said on Thursday no cases of anthrax had been found in the capital so far.

He called on the public, however, to see a doctor at a community health center (Puskesmas) if symptoms of anthrax developed.

Achmad said a person with the disease could be cured with antibiotics, but it would be difficult if a person sought medical treatment too late.

The city husbandry agency has dispatched 520 veterinarians to conduct medical checks on livestock to be slaughtered on Idul Adha (the Islamic Day of Sacrifice), which falls on March 5. An anthrax vaccine is also available at the agency. (amd)