The Guardian
July 20, 2002

Forget the crack, go for the crackers

John Aglionby,
South-east Asia correspondent

Fancy a quick fix without getting caught? Well, there's no need to wait for cannabis to be legalised; just pop down to your local Marks and Spencer food outlet and buy a packet of savoury crackers.

At least that's what the officials in Singapore's central narcotics bureau would have us believe. Investigators in arguably the world's most tightly controlled state are examining the crackers crumb by crumb, fearing that their poppy seeds contain traces of morphine, a controlled drug which is banned in the island republic.

Marks and Spencer executives, who hurriedly withdrew the offending product from shelves when made aware of the undercover investigation by the Singaporean New Paper tabloid, are unlikely to be hanged, the typical penalty facing drug traffickers in Singapore.

But Marks and Spencer admitted yesterday that their Savoury Crackers do "naturally contain extremely low levels of opiates". And they admit they have been importing them into Singapore for the past five years.

So although the company refuses to release figures on how many tonnes of crackers have been sold in Singapore, it seems it could be classified as one of the most persistent drug runners in the country.

"Because the Misuse of Drugs Act states that morphine is a controlled drug, you're not supposed to have morphine in any amount," a spokeswoman for the drug squad said.

British cracker addicts have nothing to fear: they will remain on sale in the UK.

It isn't as if the firm that likes to portray itself as having a squeaky-clean image wasn't warned. Last month a local company was fined S$60,000 (£22,400) for importing a poppy seed cake mix from Australia that was found to contain morphine but failing to submit a sample to the authorities for analysis.

But Singapore's drug busters should not be scoffed at. In April they banned a Chinese herbal product, Slim 10, which had been dubbed a new weight-loss wonder drug. Since then six women have died and dozens have been hospitalised in three Asian countries and authorities are blaming Slim 10 or other similar products.

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