Contaminated Milk Powder – Why have authorities lied to Sri Lankan consumers?
Posted on August 6th, 2013

Shenali D Waduge

It was as far back as in early March that the Nation newspaper boldly informed the public of Sri Lanka about hazardous milk powder sneaking into Sri Lankan market. Milk powder containing DCD (Dicyanidiamide “”…” a hazardous agrochemical) produced by New Zealand Dairy Company Fonterra whose flagship brand “Anchor” is popular in Sri Lanka. Is it because Fonterra controls 60% of the milk market that authorities remained mum and waited for China and Russia to take action to join them to ban and suspend milk imports months later? We wonder what other type of imported items that the Sri Lankan consumer is poisoned with and the authorities are keeping silent about. We also wonder to whose benefit the Health Ministry continued to claim milk powder was safe for consumption when the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) insisted that the powdered milk was contaminated. How much does it take for people to keep silent in the larger interest of the country and its people? This serves as a good lesson for the Sri Lankan public too in preferring to consume everything foreign instead of helping the local producers.

In New Zealand too investigations in early 2013 had revealed traces of DCD in 371 samples in milk powder, butter and cheese products. The New Zealand media were also critical of its government.

Fonterra finally admits DCD

When the New Zealand Government intervenes and took control of Fonterra’s response to the world regarding the milk contamination we know the situation had become serious. Fonterra CEO even travelled to China to make a public apology and New Zealand PM John Key announced that Government ministers would also visit Beijing because China is a large market and one which New Zealand does not want to lose. Moreover, the fact that China makes no bones about issues certainly adds to the mutual respect which cannot be said about how Sri Lanka’s officials function and it is no wonder that at every turn our nation ends up being treated as doormats because officials do not know to function in ways to command mutual respect. While Fonterra’s CEO goes to China to apologize, Sri Lanka’s Fonterra head denies DCD in its milk powder and even holds a press conference giving journalists who covered the press conference seven 400 g packets of Anchor milk powder each as compliments from Fonterra!

Be that as it may Fonterra claimed in a statement that no detectable traces of DCD was found in 36 consignments that entered Sri Lanka since June 2013 (4700 metric tons of Anchor full cream milk). The statement also said that multiple independent international laboratories confirmed that New Zealand milk in Sri Lanka do not contain measurable levels of DCD and that 200 tests were carried out without any traces of DCD. Now what do they have to say to the public?

It was also in March 2013 that the Fonterra chief claimed that international food safety standard treaties do not compel milk powder product manufacturers to cite the course of the ingredients in milk products.

We need to also add that Anchor Brands have also obtained Halal Certification from the ACJU while claiming that international treaties do not warrant Fonterra to disclose their ingredients to outside parties “”…” which then questions how Anchor brands was given the halal label/logo if ACJU are not allowed to test their ingredients and to confirm no pigs fat is used?

Fonterra being the world’s biggest dairy exporter ($9billion annual dairy trade) should have functioned more ethically than it has. True the consumers of developing nations are not as conscious of their rights and how to demand their rights but that does not mean that these nations should have to be victims of food contamination while importers also prefer to keep mum because they are more concerned about selling their wares and making profits while state authorities are asleep or end up lying to us.

When state authorities lie

We can accept that foreign milk producers are concerned about selling their goods and importers are concerned about making profits by putting what they import into the local market but when authorities tasked with ensuring that whatever Sri Lanka purchases and its public consumes is environmentally friendly, healthy and most of all does not cheat the consumer and country “”…” we would like to know what is happening.

Repeatedly the Sri Lankan Health Ministry ignored the stand taken by the ITI and claimed that imported milk food was safe for consumption “”ITI’s findings are unacceptable as 148 random samples tested for DCD in a laboratory in Thailand proved negative”, a Health Ministry official said. Not stopping at that the Health official goes on to humiliate the ITI saying that it didn’t have the technological capacity to test milk food imports and the Govt had to send random samples to Thailand. If distrusting our local officials was not enough the Fonterra Brand MD Mr. Clement himself declared that “We export to more than 150 countries across the globe, but only Sri Lanka has questioned the quality of our products” “”…” he must next respond to how numerous nations are withdrawing their milk causing alarm across their countries. Besides, who is to really judge what levels of bugs is tolerable in what we eat or drink and when the per unit amount doubles or trebles in usage who will answer to the adverse effects? The public needs to be aware that DCD, cadmium or arsenic is also in salt, white sugar, flour and even vegetables and yams. A UN study suggests that the salt we consume daily is far worse a health risk than DCD “”…” it just goes to show how pesticide, insecticides and other such sold by companies are making profits by spraying what we eat and causing health issues for the entire world. Is this not one reason why people are suffering from cancers, diseases that doctors do not know how to diagnose, ending up in people under the nightmare of lab tests and constant medication leading to other health complications thereafter?

Sri Lankan authorities have now temporarily suspended importation of milk and have advised Sri Lanka customs officials but the golden question is what about the milk powder already on the stands of shops and supermarkets? How many gullible consumers will continue to purchase these milk powder or will these end up as humanitarian aid to people as is the general practice of dumping items with short shelf life or about to expire as humanitarian aid to developing nations!

The present milk contamination scare comes 5 years after the discovery of melamine in milk in China leading several baby deaths.

It is for the public to know where milk powders come from:

New Zealand : Anchor, Lakspray, Nespray, Raththi

Australia : Maliban

Local : Pelawatte, Highland

 Why do Sri Lankans not value local products?

A question all Sri Lankans would well do to ask is why our people are reluctant to buy what our own people produce? A good example of this tragedy was seen when dairy farmers in the central highlands let loose 12,000 litres of fresh milk in protest because they could not sell their product because private milk companies working through collection agents had suspended their purchases.

The Government had to end up buying the unsold milk through state-owned Milco which also produces ice cream and yoghurts from local produce. So why is it that people prefer to buy foreign when the local products are already available and in stock? Milco has 77 chilling centres which can hold 325,000 litres and has 52 bowsers that can transport 350,000 litres and factories can hold another 270,000 litres. Do people not want to help the 2000 dairy farmers and their families and prefer instead to make foreign farmers, foreign companies and importers profit? Are people victims to the marketing gimmicks that make it fashionable to drink imported milk products and discard what their own people produce? People have yet to realize that most of the items being imported are processed or contaminated and these all lead to health issues.

It would be good for Sri Lanka’s consumers to assess what they eat and drink and think about the health factor and their well being first.

9 Responses to “Contaminated Milk Powder – Why have authorities lied to Sri Lankan consumers?”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Maharaja’s ANCHOR was always contaminated.

    But due to Endian connections and money they NEVER got caught.

    Much like the Weliweriya affair. Helpless people left to drink poison while big shots make money!!

    VERY GOOD opportunity to promote local milk. It is the BEST.

  2. michelly200 Says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Fontera admitted a possible contamination of a bacteria that causes botulism in their products… not DCD

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    At the rock bottom of all things commercial is the profit motive and money. Whether it is contaminated food, contaminated animal feed, gene manipulation, etc., or silent officials, it is business, money and the rampant profit motive. In the end, it is question of Ethics & Morality. Life is cheap in over crowded, poor countries.

    Do not allow Sri Lanka to become a dumping ground for substandard goods. Importers must be watched. After all, the consumer is king, and it is the demand & supply that decides the fate of goods in the market place. A Consumers Watch is absolutely necessary – sooner the better. Consumers must avoid food bad for health – it’s as simple as that.

  4. mjaya Says:

    Well said Shenali!

    At least now let us hope our people open their eyes and buy local.

    We have plenty of unused land in the NE and herds of feral cattle grazing on them. Lets make use of this natural resource and strive for self sufficiency in milk.

    Banning cattle slaughter is another necessity. India allows cattle slaughter but AFTER it became self sufficient in milk.

    For us the cow isn’t a “holy” animal. We don’t worship cows the same way the Indians do (neither do we drink sewage a.k.a. Ganges water because it is “holy”!!!) but as an agrarian society which depends on the cattle we show gratitude. Goats also provide milk. The only animals bred completely for meat are pigs and chickens.

    But the bottom line is….being a vegetarian is best for your health and saves animals from a painful death!

  5. Fran Diaz Says:

    From the Island, 7 ADocs win; govt. ready to ban contaminated milk powder
    August 6, 2013, 10:33 pm

    By Don Asoka Wijewardena

    Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, who held a meeting with the GMOA, Food and Drug Authority and the Food Advisory Committee yesterday agreed to accept the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) investigation report on DCD (Dicyandiamide) in milk food. He also agreed to remove all batches of milk products which tested positive for DCD from the market as soon as possible.

    According to a senior Health Ministry official all tests on food items would be conducted by the ITI hereafter. The ITI investigations have established that imported milk powder is tainted with DCD.

    GMOA media spokesman Dr. Navin de Soysa told The Island that the discussions held with the Health Ministry officials had been fruitful as the Ministry had agreed to accept the ITI report on milk food exported by Fonterra.

    Dr. Soysa added that in the future samples of all milk food consignments would have to be sent direct to the ITI by the Customs. The Health Ministry would also send all food items to be tested by the ITI. Hereafter, no samples of food items would be sent to any foreign laboratory, he said.

    Dr. Soysa said that Minister Sirisena had also agreed to promote liquid milk. He had expressed his willingness to work with the GMOA for that purpose.

    Addressing a public rally in Colombo yesterday, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka alleged that some politicians had been trying to defend those responsible for importing contaminated milk products. Minister Ranawaka accused them of committing a serious crime.

    The JHU stalwart said that some politicians, media institutions as well as professionals had been silent on the DCD issue. He said precautions should be taken to prevent contaminated milk products rejected by various countries including Thailand and Vietnam being brought into the country”.

  6. douglas Says:

    Shenali: As you always do, this presentation deserves our “Thank you”.

    My attention is specially drawn to the question you have raised: “Why do Sri Lnkans not value local products?” To give a simple answer to this question is: We Sri Lankans have been suffering from a huge “paranoia” of our own skills and capabilities for the last hundred or so years. This of course is the result of our being under the york of foreign domination and brought up to value a different value system of over the years. That was the “contribution”made by the “elite” class who ruled us for decades. Anyway some attempt was made, thanks to the First Prime Minister of the world i.e. Late Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike to get us on the correct tract and “produce” our own basic needs and that was the “root cause” for her downfall too. You would have noticed how the people were “jubilant” when the streets and shops were flooded with “imported” goods under the guise of “open economy”. After that what happened to the locally manufactured or produced products such as “shaving blades”, “hand-loom” cloths, “tooth brushes”, “tooth paste”,”shoes”, “umbrellas” and even a car named “Mazda”etc. to name a few. At the initial stage those were poor in quality, but were improving stage by stage. Even I remember Mrs. Bandaranaike wearing fine quality “hand-loom” sarees in attending public functions.

    After her removal from power by the “people” the ‘Guru” of “Open Economy” turned the whole country up-side down and we are continuing with that trend in millions times better than him. So we are “paying” dearly for this turn of events being quite blind to the fast track to death that comes with these commercialized imported goods.

    How to make a “turn around” is again in the hands of the “people”.

  7. Fran Diaz Says:

    douglas,

    Mrs B. made a few good strides in the local goods manufacturing sector. But, she ought to have allowed SOME imported goods as well at a much higher price. Therein lay the mistake of her economics. The local goods had no competition and stagnated as poor products, as I recall. Even the bread was full of weevils and uneatable. However, the goodies were there for the party faithful – my neighbor, who was a burgher lady married to a Muslim boasted that she had a sackful of white sugar while we ordinary Sinhela folk had to manage with sugar full of dirt. The food during Mrs B’s time was deplorable, unless one liked only rice and ‘wattaka’ with jak seed plus some yukky polluted essentials . Recall buying fish soaked in kerosine too.

    That was no right way to plan the economy.

    ——-

    We are cross roads yet again re the Economy. The local manufacturing industries have to take off, this time with more planning, to provide jobs and a higher standard of living while minding the ecology.

  8. douglas Says:

    Fran Diaz: I agree that scheme was not executed well. But I give credit to Mrs. B far at least taking that bold step. If that was marketed well to the people and won the popular support, by now we would have gone far beyond India. You would remember India too implemented the same scheme and succeeded well. Unfortunately our Political Leadership and the Politicians did not have the skill and the courage to be “nationalistic”. Our people were a too much pampered lot and did not want to make a little sacrifice for the country. Your story regarding the neighbor burgher lady married to a Muslim portrays the attitude of the people.

    However it was a good starting step, but failed due to lack of bad planning and courage to move forward. Thank you for your input.

  9. Fran Diaz Says:

    douglas,

    Yes, I agree the whole movement during Mrs B’s time was badly planned though the idea itself was wonderful. The expertise needed in Sc&Tech, the business world, economists, banking, etc. were not harnessed properly at the top. The lack of experience & confidence as well as computers not being used at that time was a drawback. Sri Lanka, being a small country with a relatively small population when seen compared with India, would even now find it difficult to compete in the world market.
    Goods produced in Lanka may have to be used mainly in Lanka. Re assembling items like fridges, cookers, air conditioners, washing & drying machines, there would be space for local consumption plus export of same. I have no idea just how competitive the market is in SE Asia and the Far East for such items.

    I think India managed well because their growth was very practical and simple, from grass roots level upwards, using their really good Indian Administrative System plus the Indian Institute of Technology. Today, Indian curries (really delicious, vegetarian and healthy) are available worldwide in special pouches that keep the food fresh even for about 2-3 years, and their machinery and the automobiles made mainly for local use for their huge population. I was amazed to learn that some kind of black lentil grown in India is now used mixed with shale oil in gel form for easier transportation.

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