Sub-standard milk powder being dumped in Sri Lanka – local producers
Health Ministry officials yesterday denied any imported milk powder brand had been ‘cleared’ of Dicynadiamide (DCD) despite aggressive media campaigns carried out by the importers.
A text message purported to have originated at the Health Ministry was circulated among the public last week informing that the World Health Organization (WHO) had conveyed to the Ministry that DCD was not present in imported milk foods to Sri Lanka.
However, officials at the Health Ministry vehemently denied the Ministry had made any such statement, or sent out a text message.
If the ministry did want to comment on the issue, it would have sent out an official statement, several ministry officials pointed out. So far, the only statement the ministry has made in relation to the DCD issue was to state that all milk powder importers must present a report obtained from any reputed laboratory (either local or foreign) recognized by the ministry, certifying that their milk powder stocks were free from DCD, they added.
Accordingly, it will be mandatory for milk powder importers to present such a certificate to the ministry from June 1.
Even if imported milk powder stocks were thus cleared, the ministry would still conduct its own tests on random samples from time to time, and would take swift action against importers if these were found to contain DCD, ministry officials stressed.
When contacted, WHO officials in Sri Lanka said the organization had only conducted an ‘evaluation’ on imported milk powder based on a literature review (our emphasis) on a request made by the Health Ministry.
WHO officials further pointed out that the report of the evaluation, could not be divulged to the public, as the report was compiled on the Health Ministry’s request.
Meanwhile, local milk producers claim consumers here have no way of verifying claims made by the importers.
“Sri Lanka is one of the largest markets for Fonterra and one of those rare countries with unprecedented dependency on powdered milk, it is an industry worth $400 million in foreign exchange,” said Chairman of Milco (Pvt) Ltd Sunil Wickramasinghe. “We are depending on an imported product where we have no control on their manufacturing, processing, packaging or marketing.”
According to him, New Zealand does not even sell within their country the very products they export. “Dicyandiamide or DCD was reported in New Zealand and China detected it in milk products they imported. While Sri Lankans opt for the brand name, it is the same milk powder from the same country that is sold under various other names. One such brand Anlene was banned in New Zealand in 2009.”
When inquired about comments he had made with reference to an unverified report from the World Health Organization (WHO), he cited that WHO reports had limitations of its own with little or no control over the dairy products. “Local dairy producers here are regulated. We have government regulations which we need to comply with, rules and standards set forth by other authorities as well as the health ministry, ” he added. “I find that most of the milk powder packets come with extended expiry date which is unusual for dairy. It is only for 35 days that you can keep a Highland milk packet, unlike milk powder which has an expiry date of 18 or 24 months.”
“We also make milk powder but its only milk from this country. We don’t import milk. Milco purchased 68 million liters of milk last year from over 55000 farmers which is a 31% increase over the previous year. And we were able to give back these farmers an increase of over Rs.5551 in incomes.” Chairman of Pelawatte Dairy Industries (Pvt) Ltd. and Maubima Lanka Foundation, Ariyaseela Wickramanayake, stated the DCD issue could have been easily avoided had Sri Lanka stopped importing milk powder. “
We have more than 1.2 million cows in the country and we can be self-sufficient in milk if we milked them all,” he stressed. He said self-sufficiency in milk could easily be achieved if authorities put a stop to what he called ‘sub-standard’ milk powder from being dumped in the country. He dismissed arguments made by the New Zealand Government and foreign milk powder companies that only ‘very low levels’ of DCD had been detected in their milk powder, meaning there was no real danger to the public.
“Around 83, 000 tons of foreign milk powder is imported on a yearly basis. That is 83 million kilograms of milk powder. Imagine how much DCD might be in present in all that,” he added.