Australian student who sold monkey skull to ‘people from Pirates of the Caribbean’ fined

A few years ago, one of those Johnny-Depp-pirate movies — it may have been 5 — was filming down the highway at the Gold Coast.

The set was plagued by drama when it was discovered Depp and then wife Amber Heard had illegally brought two dogs into the country.

This prompted deputy premier Banaby-the-bloody-carp Joyce (right, not exactly as shown) to question Depp’s acting ability after the couple apologized, which shows how small Australia is because now Joyce is embroiled in his own scandalous activities, involving humans, not pets.

Behind the sideshow of movie making, divorce and apologies, a Canberra university student was on Thursday fined for illegally possessing and importing exotic animal remains into Australia, in a case that has shed some light on the shadowy world of wildlife trade.

Alexandra Back of the Canberra Times reports that for years, avid collector Brent Philip Counsell, 28, dealt in what a magistrate described as a “macabre” trade of skulls and animal specimens, once selling a primate skull to the people making the Pirates of the Caribbean movie in Brisbane.

In 2016 authorities from the department of environment raided Counsell’s home in Deakin where they found and seized about 100 animal specimens from the living room and bedroom.

Australian environment law makes it illegal to either possess or import protected exotic animal specimens without a permit.

Over several years, Counsell either illegally imported or possessed a small primate skull threaded on a necklace, the skulls of a brown bear and a gibbon, a taxidermy buzzard, water monitor lizard, and teeth from a bear and a hippopotamus tooth.

When he spoke to investigators, Counsell admitted possessing and selling species from his website, which he had since shut down.

One of the charges stemmed from an admission Counsell made to authorities after they had searched his home, that he had sold a primate skull to the “people” behind the Pirates of the Caribbean movie that was filming in Brisbane.

He tried to avoid detection, and prosecutors found on his phone articles that offered tips about how to send skulls overseas without being noticed by customs.

You owe me an apology, says prez: Taiwan indicts two businessmen in latest food scandal

Two Taiwanese businessmen have been charged with using banned industrial dyes to adulterate food products, a case which prompted mass recalls in the island’s latest food safety scandal, prosecutors said Tuesday.

apologyThey sought a 20-year jail term for Lu Tien-jung on charges of food safety violations and fraud. His son and business partner Lu Chia-chien may face an 18-year jail term on the same charges, in addition to a fine of Tw$20 million (S$882,600) for each man.

The pair, who run the Chien Hsin company at the centre of the scandal, were charged with manufacturing and selling soybean emulsifiers tainted with dimethyl yellow and diethyl yellow dyes which have been banned from food products since late 2008, said the Changhua district prosecutor’s office.

Meanwhile, the President of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, on Tuesday filed defamation lawsuits against a radio host for alleging that he accepted illicit political donations from a company implicated in food safety scandals.

Ma is seeking compensation of NT$10 million (HK$2.4 million) and printed apologies in four major newspapers from Clara Chou in a civil defamation suit, his lawyer Hung Wen-jun told reporters outside Taipei district court.

He also filed a criminal aggravated defamation suit against Chou since she “continues to make the same remarks concerning the case even though relevant persons have made many clarifications or even filed lawsuits against her”, Hung said.

Chou accused Ma of accepting under-the-table funds totalling NT$200 million to act as the “guardian” of food giant Ting Hsin, which has faced widespread public outrage and an island-wide boycott of its products following several food safety scandals.

Food safety apology II: Copa sorry for Salmonella outbreak

The restaurant behind Canberra’s largest salmonella outbreak has made a public apology to affected diners.

The Copa Brazilian Churrasco restaurant in Dickson released the statement on Thursday morning, after 140 people fell ill and 15 were admitted to raw.egg_.mayo_-300x203hospital after eating bad mayonnaise nearly two weeks ago.

“It is with sincere compassion and genuine sorrow that we apologize to all the people and their families affected by the recent tragic sequence of events,” the statement said.

“We have removed all products containing raw eggs from our menu to ensure an outbreak of this kind is never repeated at The Copa.”

The release said the restaurant management had been unable to make an official statement earlier due to the ongoing investigation, but decided to make an apology now given the release date was unknown.

It’s never wrong to say sorry, especially when it was clear that 140 barfing people had one thing in common: they ate at the Copa.

To now remove all raw-egg based dishes is nice, but too little too late. Any restaurant that willingly ignores risks associated with its food gets little sympathy. There have been plenty of raw-egg related outbreaks in Australia — so many that we have our own table — including Canberra in 2011.

A table of raw-egg related outbreaks in Australia is available at


Food safety apology I: Texas health type says sorry to family

The parents of an 18-month-old and a 4-year-old who were sickened by E. coli from a local restaurant weren’t happy with a Brazos County Health wilke.taco.e.coli.may.13Department news conference on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the doctor who ate a taco from the restaurant from which the bacteria was traced, issued an apology.

Dr. Eric Wilke told News 3, “I did have the opportunity to speak with Mr. Melton yesterday and offered my heartfelt apology that I offended him and his family. I would never want to lessen the gravity of what they experienced. Mr. Melton was very gracious and I appreciate his willingness to speak to me. If my comments and actions gave anyone the impression, other than what we felt in terms of concern, then I would like to offer my apology to them and ask for their forgiveness.”

Dr. Wilke says eating the taco at the news conference on Tuesday was simply an attempt to quell some of the public concern about food safety.

It was a dumb attempt.

Maple Leaf listeria vp apologizes for bad comedy routine

The Toronto Star reports this morning that a Maple Leaf Foods executive has apologized after joking about last year’s listeria outbreak in Canada that killed 22 people.

There are any number of elements that make this story particularly gross and uniquely Canadian.

It all began one-year ago yesterday – or at least that’s what Maple Leaf CEO and spokesthingy Michael McCain would have Canadians believe. McCain and Maple Leaf ran full-page advertisements in newspapers across Canada yesterday, saying oops, sorry about that listeria thing that killed 22 people last fall.

McCain wrote on the company blog,

“It was a year ago on August 23, 2008 that some of our products were linked to the death of 22 Canadians and made many others very ill.”

That’s fantasy. Maple Leaf products were epidemiologically linked to illness and death in Canadians in July. Both the company and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have steadfastly refused to give a full accounting of who knew what when. But that’s not me talking – that’s from the chief medical officer of Ontario.

And then, I guess while Maple Leaf types were being credited for another PR sensitivity win, a video of a Maple Leaf vp surfaces showing him joking about the listeria illnesses and deaths. 

I blogged it yesterday, and within an hour, former B.C. Deputy Minister of Agriculture and current Maple Leaf vp Rory McAlpine (left, exactly as shown) wrote on

“I want to sincerely apologize on your blog for the joke with which I began my comments at the Conference earlier in August.  These were my personal remarks, and I appreciate in hindsight they were not appropriate given the Listeriosis outbreak and the death and illness it caused.  I didn’t in any way mean to make light of this tragedy and I feel terrible that my early remarks conveyed a callousness that I don’t feel. You have every right to call me on it and I am deeply sorry.   

“I hope my full remarks that day, the questions from the audience and my participation in the panel discussion reflect better on how acutely accountable I and everyone at Maple Leaf feels for what happened and all the actions we are taking to achieve our commitment to food safety leadership.”

That’s some well-sized kahunas. I’ve also said dumb things and had to apologize. But McCain said yesterday, “holding ourselves to a higher standard means we will act more quickly and more assertively when there is a potential food safety concern – even a small one.”

So, once again, before anyone at Maple Leaf gives lectures on how to handle a crisis – which Rory has done, it’s all online – make your listeria data public and put warning labels on your product so pregnant woman, the elderly and others don’t barf from your food.

As I told the Toronto Star,

"It’s nice that he apologized, but it would be better if he’d put warnings labels on products for old people and pregnant women and make (listeria test result) data public."

It’s also sorta gross that no one from the best and brightest conference at Couchiching where Rory laid down his comedian wares said anything about this until yesterday. They all seemed to have a ball (right). How Canadian.

Rory may not remember me but when he was deputy minister of agriculture, I was invited in Dec. 2003 to give a talk at a meeting of all the deputy ministers of agriculture, and I talked about how food safety reality should match rhetoric. Maybe Rory stepped out.

And I note Rory is on the International Advisory Council for the Ontario Agricultural College – or at least he was. When I was at the University of Guelph, the Dean du jour of OAC would annually speak to us lowly faculty about the need to be visionary and how we could use the advice of visionary dudes to be better professors.

So the Dean would spend college money on some sort of international advisory committee which was usually staffed with colleagues and cronies near and dear to the dean.

It’s true: the best and brightest do rise to the top. Kudos to Rory.

Spider found at Tulsa Whole Foods

An employee at Whole Foods Market in Tulsa, OK, recently caught a spider (below) roaming in the produce section.

The director of animal facilities at the University of Tulsa, Terry Childs, thought it to be a Brazilian wandering spider, or banana spider, which is considered to be the most deadly spider in the world. Childs said the spider likely came to the store in a bunch of bananas from Honduras.

A manager at the store said employees check the produce for spiders and insects, and believes that’s why the spider was discovered before it left the store.

Whole Foods said in a later statement,

"We take every precaution to inspect all of our produce as it arrives in the store and prior to it being merchandised on the sales floor. This incident is an extremely unusual circumstance, and one that we’ve never encountered before. We are confident that this will remain an isolated incident as we are very cautious when unpacking produce for our sales floor."

I can’t find this statement, so I’m not sure if the entire thing is so defensive and impersonal. I wonder whether the store or chain ever said sorry for the scare, or that they were glad no one got hurt.

Granted, the situation may not have been as dire as was first believed. The curator of aquariums and herpetology at the Tulsa Zoo, Barry Downer, saw video and photos of the spider (who has now been destroyed) and thinks it may have been a Huntsman spider—an arachnid that is harmless to humans.

Regardless of its true identity, the spider was perceived as a threat to shoppers and Whole Foods would do well to recognize that.

If anybody finds their statement, I’d love to check it out:, or comment here for all to enjoy.

Sorry for the Salmonella says food services

The University of Western Ontario has taken what one newspaper called "the unusual step" of apologizing the salmonella food poisoning outbreak that has been linked to its on-campus food service.

The move comes a day after some pushback to statements made by Susan Grindrod, Associate Vice-President of Housing and Ancillary Services, who earlier said,

"This is the first [salmonella contamination] we’ve had in 25 years. … We serve 30,000 people per week, and while it’s nice to have sanitary practices, there’s no 150 per cent guarantee.”

In the apology yesterday, Grindrod said,

“We have made a number of recommended changes to further improve all our food handling and sanitary practices. These include the installation of hands-free sanitization stations at entrances to the Centre Spot, the hiring of an independent health and safety inspector to provide suggestions on enhanced food safety processes, and further measures to avoid cross contamination between foods.” 

What Grindrod did not mention is the steps Western takes to verify that suppliers — especially suppliers of fresh fruits and vegetables — are taking steps to reduce the risk of contamination from the farm through to the Western receiving dock.

The Rochester Post-Bulletin in Minnesota reported yesterday that a salmonella outbreak that sickened 20 who ate at a Quizno’s Subs had been traced to tomatoes that were contaminated before they even got to the restaurant.