The Federal Government will launch a pre-emptive strike against the highly addictive drug, cheese, to suppress its use in Australia, with the launch of its 19 million-dollar campaign ‘Freeze Cheese: It’s not Cool Fool.’
Cheese is a solid drug sourced from the milk of cows, goats and other mammals. Cheese is made by curdling milk, using a combination of rennet (an enzyme obtained from the stomach lining of calves) and acidification. Its use has grown in recent years; national data indicating the supply and use of cheese grew threefold between 2004 and 2006, a rise attributed to illicit importation and the growth in illegal local labs known as ‘dairies’. In low or moderate doses cheese can cause a loss of inhibition and greatly elevated mood and sense of well-being, a state known to users as being ‘greated’. Those taking larger doses can experience mental confusion and agitation, paranoia, erratic behaviour and nightmares – known as being ‘grated’.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard launched the campaign on the steps of parliament house yesterday, wearing a black ‘Freeze Cheese’ baseball cap. Ms Gillard said that the Government’s new action on cheese would include confronting advertisements detailing the horror of cheese. ‘We must not let cheese take hold in Australia. Australians need to know the ugly reality of drugs like cheese. Cheese ruins lives and we need to educate our young people to make the right decisions in social situations.’
In the first four months of this year customs seized 112 tonnes of cheese, compared to only 54 over the same period last year. Customs Chief Executive Officer Johnathan Pilkner said that shipments are commonly disguised inside office equipment such as chairs, desks and computers. Other smuggling techniques can be more creative. ‘In Adelaide last year they found a 2.5 meter copy of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ carved completely from high-quality Gouda. It was only discovered when an alert officer noticed several mice determinedly trying to chew through the layer encasing the cheese.’
One of the main problems that authorities have is that the drug is used in private settings such as dinner parties, where a cheese platter – a board with a selection of illegal cheeses – is often passed around. This cocktail of cheeses is particularly dangerous to users, as the effects of cheese can compound one another, leading to unpredictable results. Within entertainment circles there is speculation that certain ‘tired and emotional’ celebrities aren’t in need of a good lie down but have a cheese platter problem, leading to incoherence, vacuity and a loss of dancing ability.
Recent seizures indicate that cheeses are getting more potent. In 2004 processed cheese – a cheap, mild, smooth melting form of the drug – accounted for up to 80% of the 86 arrests made for possession of cheese. In 2006 arrests were up 50%, but less than half of these involved this milder form of the drug. Senior Sergeant Jack Flaygun, head of the Anti-Cheese Taskforce, said cheese boards are starting to contain new, more powerful forms. ‘Recently we found a worrying new type called Gorgonzola. It has distinctive blue veins of penicillium mould. Our lab indicates this cheese is 25 times as strong as the processed form. This is a clear threat to the community. There was also a recent case involving a potent form called Roquefort where the police had to don protective suits and breathing apparatus to safely handle and dispose of the cheese. A growing subculture of cheese users, who call themselves “blue-liners”, are experimenting with these dangerously toxic forms.’
Such potent cheeses are thought to be produced off-shore, most likely in the notorious ‘Cheese Triangle’ of France, Italy and Switzerland. Imports from these countries will soon face more stringent customs checks under reforms currently before parliament, including searches by the new customs sniffer rat teams, shortly to become a regular feature of Australia’s ports in their tight-fitting red uniforms and gold piping.
Statistics recently released by the Minister of Police indicate that cheese hotspots are clustered in the more affluent suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, where the use of fondue sets and cheese platters still persists. Ms Gillard promised that the new campaign would fund treatment centres in Toorak and Woollahra to help drug users into health care. The centres will be staffed by medical personnel and outreach workers, providing users with screenings for infections, general health examinations, lactose intolerance and mental health advice.
‘New laws have also come into effect making it an offence to possess a cheese board, fondue set, cheese knife or certain types of crackers without lawful reason, meaning that people will face up to five years in prison, a fine of about $60,000 or both,’ Ms Gillard said. ‘We are coming after the dealers and manufacturers too. The government will introduce new regulations to ban the possession of more than 10 cows or 25 goats.’
A spokesperson from the Cheese Abuse Survivors Group also spoke at yesterday’s launch. ‘Cheese can destroy your life,’ Rodney Bagley told the small crowd. ‘You think you can control it, just have a little on a cracker or a sprinkle on pasta, but before you know it you are addicted. All you can think about is cheese. Your whole world is cheese.’
Recent studies conducted by Turning Point Drug and Alcohol Centre have shown cheese to be even more dangerous than previously thought. While it was known that cheese is produced with casein, which, when digested by humans, breaks down into the opiate casomorphine – the source of the ‘high’ cheese provides users – new research from Turning Point has linked casomorphine directly to severe behaviour disorders, autism, poor complexion, rhyming ‘jive’ talk and chronic sleeplessness. The report concluded that cheese was costing Australia over $1.2 billion per year in lost productivity, and more than $2 billion a year when other factors such as health costs and cleaning bills were factored in.
Rodney Bagley, a cheese-addiction survivor, welcomed the new campaign, ‘Cheese is a disease; it’s not a sneeze or a breeze. The key is not just to wheeze ‘freeze’, but to succeed in bringing the disease to its knees.’