Two key State institutions adopt diametrically opposed stand on suspected DCD contamination
*‘Imported milk food safe for consumption’ — Health Ministry August 3, 2013, 8:14 pm
* ‘Unsafe as noxious chemical discovered’ — ITI
BY SURESH PERERA
Amidst growing fears of DCD (Dicyandiamide) contamination in imported milk powder triggering panic in the market and throttling sales, two key government institutions yesterday firmly defended their respective diametrically opposed stance on the safety of this vital food commodity.
While the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI), Sri Lanka’s pioneer Scientific Research and Development organization, stood its ground and reasserted that the noxious chemical was discovered in four varieties of imported milk, the Health Ministry dismissed the claim as "unfounded".
"ITI’s findings are unacceptable as 148 random samples tested for DCD in a laboratory in Thailand proved negative", a Health Ministry official said.
These random samples were drawn from bulk milk food imports from Australia and New Zealand and dispatched to Thailand for analysis because the ITI didn’t have the technological capacity to test them in Sri Lanka, he elaborated.
"We could have saved all that money spent on lab testing the samples overseas if the ITI was equipped to handle this critical analysis", he pointed out. "We turned to Thailand because the ITI itself admitted it didn’t have the technology for the job".
"It is true that we didn’t initially have the capability, but we developed an internationally accepted methodology to analyze random samples of imported powdered milk drawn from the marketplace", ITI’s Director, Dr. Sirimal Premakumara shot back.
"Our analysis has clearly proven that four varieties of imported milk powder were contaminated with traces of DCD", he said. "This has now been scientifically established".ITI failed to adhere to the accepted specific methodology, but instead conducted a "test run", which meant the outcome was inconclusive, said Roshan Kulasuriya, HR and Corporate Relations Director, Fonterra Brands Lanka (Pvt) Ltd.
"That’s not correct as it was a globally accepted norm that we used for our analysis", Premakumara countered. "It was a conclusive examination".
Director General of Health Services, Dr. Palitha Mahipala, in a communiqué titled ‘Contamination of Milk Powder with DCD’ addressed to all authorized officers attached to Import Food Inspections Units says that it "should be ensured that all consignments are accompanied with an analytical report by an accredited laboratory certifying that DCD is not detectable in the product by a test method Liquid Chromatography Tandem Mass Spectrometry (LCMS/MS)".
"We export to more than 150 countries across the globe, but only Sri Lanka has questioned the quality of our products", says Leon Clement, Managing Director, Fonterra Brands Lanka.
"We have had no problem in any of the other countries we export to as they accept and endorse our high quality standards – the hallmark of Fonterra", he told The Sunday Island.
He said that Anchor milk food come from multiple farms in New Zealand and consignments for the Sri Lankan market come mainly from one processor because of sufficient volumes.
Asked whether Anchor products meant for the Sri Lankan market could also be exported to some other country to meet pressing market demands, Clement replied, "That is possible and if there was an issue with DCD, there should be many others complaining, but that has not happened".
"It has been acknowledged that Sri Lanka doesn’t possess the specialized equipment to test milk food for DCD", he noted. "As confirmed by the Health Ministry, Fonterra dairy products are completely safe for consumption".
"We have been working closely with the Health Ministry, Sri Lanka’s authorized food safety body, to ensure they have all the information they need about the safety and quality of our products", the MD stressed.
"DCD has never been a food safety issue. The very low levels of DCD detected in a small number of milk powder samples in New Zealand last year were 100 times lower than tolerable daily intake guideline limits established by the European Commission", Kulasuriya noted.
Since June 1, 2013, every batch of Fonterra products entering Sri Lanka has been tested to ensure they meet the new DCD free standard set by the Sri Lankan Government, he said.
"Though DCD was not a food safety issue, when reports emerged that DCD traces had been found in products in Sri Lanka, we carried out extensive testing with independent laboratories", he assured.
There are tolerable levels of DCD, cadmium or arsenic in salt, rice, white sugar, flour and in some vegetable and yams as well. At this rate, people won’t be able to eat anything – not even grass because of traces of weedicides and insecticides widely used in Sri Lanka, health officials said.
There are no long-term deleterious effects on humans as the minimum toxicity levels found in such foods are secreted through urine, they explained. "That’s why tolerable levels are no big issue".
Multiple tests are conducted on foodstuffs at the point of shipping and on landing at the port, the officials assured. "It is a chain which continues until 100% safety for consumption is established".
"We didn’t permit 26,000 metric tons of contaminated dhal into the country recently", they said, offering an example of the tough regulatory measures in place. "The consignment was ordered to be re-shipped to the country of origin".
There are also people with vested interests jumping on the bandwagon to spread scare stories and create more panic in the market, they warned. "The devil is not as black as they project".
Asked about the GMOA’s demand to ban imported milk powder, the officials asked, "How can we ban a commodity which is safe for consumption?"
"United Nations data suggests that the table salt sitting in your kitchen is more of a risk to humans than DCD. However, to ensure that we meet the DCD free standard set on June 1, we have been working with the Ministry of Health to test all of our products entering Sri Lanka", Fonterra Brands Lanka said in a statement.
"No detectable traces of DCD have been found in 36 consignments of products that have entered Sri Lanka since June 1, 2013. This is the equivalent of over 4,700 metric tons of Anchor full cream milk powder that has been subjected to testing," it said.
"It must be remembered that multiple independent international laboratories have confirmed that the New Zealand milk powders which have crossed the Sri Lankan border do not contain measureable levels of DCD," the statement said.
"These findings are consistent with the 202 tests carried out by independent and internationally recognized testing laboratories AsureQuality and the Cawthron Institute on Fonterra branded products".
"Over 200 tests were carried out and not found a single trace of DCD was found in any of our Fonterra branded products that entered Sri Lanka."
Fonterra is New Zealand’s biggest exporter of dairy products.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena is scheduled to chair a discussion on DCD with senior health officials on Tuesday (6).
Last Updated Feb 23 2017 | 09:15 pm