Is Sri Lanka the “country eating the most amounts of Toxins”, and should it ban Palm Oil?
Posted on January 25th, 2020

By Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana

Hon. Chamal Rajapaksa  had stated  on January 14th at Embilipitiya that According to the WHO, Sri Lanka is the country eating the most amount of toxins (ලෝක සෞඛ්‍ය සංවිධානයේ වාර්තාවල් අනුව ලෝකයේ වැඩිම වස විස බුක්තිවිදින රට තමයි ලංකාව)! Meanwhile, an Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry has called for a  ban on Palm Oil (24th January 2020, Island), claiming it to cause cancer. Unfortunately, neither statement is fully justified, but  cause unnecessary public fear
 
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), globally over 20%  suffer from chronic hunger. In Africa and Asia,  Yemen  is at 60% and India records a 38% chronic hunger rate.  Sri Lanka, thanks to  modern agriculture, hybrid seeds and irrigation from the Senanayake era, does much better though struggling with food insecurity and malnutrition. Nevertheless, the increasing wealth gap caused by free-market economics has created two classes. The rich, enjoying longer lives are  health conscious,  and want  a choice on food.  They  are  obsessed with the purity of their food, while ignoring their obesity-generating life styles. The impoverished fend with any food that keeps them alive, with NO choice.

ARE SRI LANKANS EATING TOXIC FOOD?
The good news is, judging from the reported data, the food available in Sri Lanka even for the impoverished is generally safe to eat, and probably cleaner than from similar South Asian markets. Furthermore, the public must not be fooled by the propaganda of  organic” food  vendors fighting for a bigger market share and eroding the available inexpensive food supply.

The WHO has not said that Sri Lanka leads the world in eating toxic food. The Hon. Chamal Rajapaksa is not the only one  misled into believing that Sri Lanka imports a lot of agrochemicals having huge amounts of arsenic, cadmium and such toxic elements, and that the local food in the market, be it gotukola, spinache, rice, tilaapiya or tea  have  dangerous” amounts of pesticide residues in them. In previous articles, e.g., Daily News, Nov. 7, 2018, entitled  Toxic cocktail of myth and truth

Toxic cocktail of myth and truth

http://www.dailynews.lk/2018/11/07/features/167704/toxic-cocktail-myth-and-truth

I have pointed out that many – even scientists and medics –  who cry WOLF”  have  mis- applied the toxic thresholds  set out by the WHO and the FAO.  

When a  celebrity figure like Hon. Chamal Rajapaksa, flanked by people like Ven. Omalphe Sobitha states that Sri Lankans lead the world in eating  toxic food, he makes more impact than doctors and scientists. Mr. Rajapaksa was addressing farmers,  and decrying their use of  agrochemicals  held to be poisons”. But no substance is a poison unless certain thresholds are exceeded. Vitamins, in the recommended doses are a blessing, but become poisons if you exceed the daily dose.

The controls needed for optimal and minimal use of agrochemicals in Lanka were destroyed since 1977 by the free market. However, the world-bank data on the use of agrochemicals is very clear that Sri Lanka has a significantly LOW  usage of argochemicals even in spite of the free market.  

Poor health is not correlated with high use of agrochemicals but with poverty. Rich countries can pay for agrochemicals.
(Usage in kg/hectare, source: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.CON.FERT.ZS)

Singapore 30,237(?); Qatar, 6755;  Hong Kong, 2704;  New Zealand, 1777;  Malaysia,         1723;   Ireland, 1,247; Columbia (coffee), 660;   Egypt (has CKDu), 650; China, 503;     Vietnam, 430;   Ecuador, 354;    Maldives, 315; Bangladesh, 289;    UK, 253;   Indonesia,     231;    India (has CKDu), 166; Thailand, 162;
Sri Lanka (has CKDu in the NCP), 132;


Poor countries, unable to afford, use less than 100 kg/hectare, and have many chronic diseases.
Nicaragua (has a form of CKDu), 62; Bhutan, 13; Ruwanda, 11; Burundi, 5.4; Congo, 1.8; Gambia, 1.2; Central African Rep., 0.3.

SHOULD SRI LANKA BAN PALM OIL?
Emeritus Professor of biochemistry, Deepal Mathew writing in the Island on 21st January   points out that  Palm oil has become the major edible oil in Sri Lanka with a market share of 82%. Coconut oil has a market share of 12%. What applies to processed palm oil applies in some measure to hot-processed coconut oil, although Prof. Mathew has not called for a ban on coconut oil.

virgin coconut oil” and imported virgin olive oil”, prepared by low-temperature processing  are  the choice of the rich. Virgin palm oil is equally safe. What should the vast majority who cannot afford these good oils do”? The good professor has no affordable suggestions.  But he warns that The food industry in Sri Lanka will use cheap refined palm oil to maximize profits. However, this may lead to a severe crisis in the future due to the possibility of a sharp increase in cancer patients”.

Dr. Mathew’s concerns regarding Palm Oil are not based on the usual (valid) arguments against multinationals destroying tropical forests in South-East Asia for planting Palm. His concerns are based on a scientific opinion  given by the European Food safety Authority (EFSA), and  must be taken seriously. The EFSA (see doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2016.4426) did not say that eating palm oil will definitely cause cancer.

Toxins are formed when palm oil (or other vegetable oil) is produced above 200 Celsius. European foods using  palm oil  were potato crisps, hot-surface-cooked pastries, cookies, short-crusts, margarines, fried/roasted meats, spreads including chocolates. Are these applicable as such to Lankan consumers? Surely, the vast majority of Sri Lankan  consumers don’t eat chocolate spreads, french fries or short-crusts.  Unfortunately,  reliable data bases for urban and rural Lankan consumers are not available.
 
The Europeans established a tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 0.8 micro-grams per kg body-weight  per day for MCPD (the toxic agent in  processed palm oil). So, a 60 kg adult can tolerate 50 micrograms of MCPD. Since processed palm oil may have some 500 mg of MCPD/kg,   the TDI will be exceeded if  more than 100 milligram of  palm oil  are consumed daily from the diet.  A similar threshold may apply to hot-processed coconut oil.

The 0.8 micrograms/kg of body weight TDI given in 2016 was already revised UPWARDS by almost a factor of 3 in 2017. The FAO/WHO committee recommends  4 micro-grams/kg of body weight, i.e., some 5 times more than the EFSA TDI,  showing that these experts  are groping in the dark.
   

Here a word of caution needed. Scientists have no definite evidence of human cancer caused by consuming  high amounts of palm oil. Rats  fed  with 2 mg/kg of rat-body weight (or more) developed chronic toxic effects and cancer. So, some 400 times the human TDI were force-fed to small animals to demonstrate toxic effects, never observed in humans. Hence  scientists classified processed palm oil as being only a group-II carcinogen, similar to possible (but unproven) danger from cell-phone radiation or glyphosate. Palm oil is is NOT banned in Europe.

The same authorities classified red meat, ham, sausages,  alcoholic drinks, tobacco, diesel and petrol fumes, emissions from coal-power stations  etc.,  as group-I carcinogens (i.e., definitely causing cancer). Logically, if one were to ban anything, then group-I carcinogens should be banned  before  group-II substances.

New technologies for processing palm oils will greatly suppressor remove  the presence of MCPDs. Malasiya has already promised to ultra-clean export palm oil within an year, in full compliance of  European standards, noting that Europe has a stake in promoting olive oil against palm oils.

The precautionary principle is applied in modern societies to control and constrain”  potentially dangerous agents instead of banning and banishing”.  Pharmaceuticals, gasoline, electricity, X-rays, etc are  such dangerous agents which are controlled and put to good use  by modern societies.

 
[Food science B. Sc and post-graduate diploma courses were initiated during the author’s  tenure (1970s)  as Professor of Chemistry and Vice Chancellor of Vidyodaya (now SJP) university.]

One Response to “Is Sri Lanka the “country eating the most amounts of Toxins”, and should it ban Palm Oil?”

  1. aloy Says:

    Like Chandre there was the controller of Agro chemicals used to defend the use of glyphosate etc for agriculture in SL. Hon. Chamal may have stated a fact. A fact even the former deputy minister of commerce Buddhika Pathirana conceded in one of his appearances in Derana few months back. According to him a large quantity of Formalin is being imported to the country for embarming the dead bodies. Instead of it being used for that purpose 95% of it was being used for preserving fish, dry fish etc. So the people eat fish and dry fish in SL and die of cancer early.

    It has now been found the mechanism by which glyphostae affects people’s kidneys. Please ask the Biology tuition teacher Tissa Jananyake whom I consider a patriotic Sinhalese. It is no longer CKDu but a disease of known origin. According to him our doctors suspect there are about 5 million Sinhalese already affected. May be this campaign is to depopulate the Sinhalas from this country.
    I therefore request from Chandre not to harp on this as sometimes the politicos will think that there is no harm in using agro chemicals without a limit.

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