Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Milk Powder importers lied

Repeated claims made by foreign milk producers that their milk powder products were ‘free’ from the agrochemical Dicyandiamide (DCD), were proved false this week when the Ministry of Technology, Research and Atomic Energy stated on Friday (26) that traces of DCD had been found in samples of imported milk powder brands sold in Sri Lanka.

Tests had been carried out by the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) on samples of four imported milk powder brands and two local brands. The Nation was the first to reveal in March that milk powder products containing the potentially hazardous agrochemical had sneaked into the local market.

Traces of DCD were detected in all four foreign branded milk powder samples, while DCD was not detected in the two local brands that were tested, according to the ITI report. The four foreign milk powder brands where traces of DCD were detected are Anchor, Anchor 1+, Diamond and Maliban Non-Fat.

The two local milk powder brands that were cleared of DCD were Pelawatte and Highland. Anchor and Anchor 1+ are both imported by New Zealand based Fonterra, while Maliban Non-Fat is imported from Australia by Maliban Milk Products (Pvt) Ltd.

Diamond Milk Powder is imported from New Zealand by P.M. Mohamedali & Company. The revelations come despite repeated claims by brands such as Fonterra and Maliban that their milk powder brands are free from DCD.

At the height of the controversy in May this year, the New Zealand Government itself got involved to protect its multi-billion dollar dairy industry, with its High Commission in New Delhi releasing a statement, assuring that New Zealand dairy products are safe.

It acknowledged that ‘low levels of DCD’ were detected in a ‘small number’ of New Zealand milk powder products. “Extensive research has shown no food safety risk at the levels of DCD detected.

It is of very low toxicity, and even with extremely high doses it has been difficult to identify any adverse effects,” the New Zealand Government claimed at the time. It was also claimed that DCD fertilizer was no longer being applied to pastures in New Zealand. Authorities here, however, insist that levels of DCD detected in milk powder brands imported to Sri Lanka should be ‘zero’, and the Health Ministry has stated all milk powder importers must present a report obtained from any reputed laboratory recognized by the ministry, certifying that their milk powder stocks were free from DCD.

Accordingly, it became mandatory for milk powder importers to present such a certificate to the ministry from June 1. Maliban Milk Products (Pvt) Ltd., meanwhile, went to great lengths to emphasize how its milk powder was ‘Free from DCD’ as it was imported ‘Only from Australia’, where DCD was reportedly not being used.

Maliban Milk is imported from the Murry Goulburn Co-Operative Company Ltd., in Australia. “DCD is not used by Australian Dairy farmers and therefore, no residues are expected, in Australian dairy products,” stated a press release issued by Maliban in May.

However, the veracity of these claims are now open to question, with the ITI indicating it had found clear traces of DCD in Maliban milk powder products as well. For its part, Fonterra launched an aggressive media campaign emphasizing their milk powder products had been found to be 100% free of DCD in over 100 tests conducted worldwide.

But the ITI report has all but left these claims in the dust. Following the latest report, The Nation also contacted P.M. Mohamedali & Company regarding reports that traces of DCD were found in its Diamond milk powder products imported from New Zealand. However, we were told there was no one authorized to speak to the media on the issue at this time.

Meanwhile, Health Ministry officials said they would study the report in detail before deciding on further action. Health Ministry Secretary Dr. Nihal Jayathilaka, said the ministry would decide on a future course of action in consultation with the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA). He explained they had obtained the opinion of the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the DCD issue when it first came to the fore. “The WHO has the technical mandate to give an opinion on the issue, but they didn’t advise us to immediately stop importing milk powder products. However, we did come to a decision to test all imported milk powder products for DCD. We have been extremely vigilant and the ministry’s Food Advisory Committee, under the Director General of Health Services, has been heavily involved in this process,” he claimed. Dr. Jayathilaka pointed out that this was a multibillion dollar industry, where the competition is ‘cutthroat’.

Therefore, if one company falls, the others stand to make huge profits. As such, one has to move carefully since companies are not averse to ‘hitting below the belt’ to take advantage of a situation, he opined. “There needs to be a critical analysis of all the facts. We will work in consultation with everyone and come to a decision,” he stressed. CAA Chairman Rumy Marzuk said he had not seen the report as yet, but that the CAA was prepared to act on it in consultation with the Health Ministry. It is also a well known fact that milk powder is used in the manufacturing of other products such as yogurt, ice cream, and certain milk chocolates.

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