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More needs to be done on contaminated milk issue
Publication Date : 09-08-2013
In Sri Lanka, milk products found to be contaminated with dicyandiamide (DCD) are being removed from the market and milk food advertising has been suspended. The Court of Appeal has restrained New Zealand dairy company Fonterra from advertising its products as one hundred per cent safe in the country.
The health ministry has asked the media not to carry material that promotes contaminated products. These measures are to be highly commended.
Interestingly, until a few days ago, the health hinistry spokesman had been attributing his statements in favour of the companies whose milk products have been banned, to some unverified foreign laboratory reports, which he claimed, were held by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Palitha Mahipala.
One is intrigued. There is hardly any difference between what Fonterra and other milk food companies say about their products in their advertisements and the statements the health ministry spokesman made in defence of milk food companies.
Since the health ministry has now chosen to go by the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) findings, will the DGHS ask his spokesman to recant the previous statements made on the basis of foreign lab reports?
Fonterra continues to challenge the ITI findings, claiming that Sri Lanka does not have the required technology to test milk for DCD.
This, the dairy giant is doing even though the ITI has repeatedly pointed out that it has state-of-the-art equipment to conduct such tests.
There is no reason to doubt what a respectable state institution run by veteran scientists says. But health ministry officials should be blamed for having left room for the ITI’s credibility and capability to be challenged.
They should have known better than to send milk food samples to foreign laboratories, bypassing the ITI, and to flaunt the reports so obtained to defend a few companies. In so doing, they gave the wrong impression that Sri Lanka was not equipped to conduct DCD tests.
Health Secretary Dr. Nihal Jayathilaka has written to the DGHS asking him to explain why samples of milk products were sent to foreign laboratories for DCD testing instead of to the ITI.
Such action should have been taken much earlier. It will be interesting to know what Mahipala’s reply will be. Let him also be urged to release to the media the reports purportedly issued by the labs in Thailand and Singapore.
Will the Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA) ask him to do so quickly, so that the public will know whether the milk products are really contaminated or not?
The GMOA has accused an unnamed health ministry official of taking bribes to clear tainted milk products and demanded that the ministry officials declare their assets.
The doctors’ demands should be met if the health bigwigs have nothing to hide.
However, one should not be so naive as to believe that crooks are stupid enough to keep all their ill-gotten wealth in this country - it is usually stashed away in off-shore accounts.
The manner in which the DCD issue was handled by certain officials has raised serious doubts in the minds of not only doctors but also ordinary people, as to their integrity.
Had not the GMOA intervened to fight quite a battle against powerful dairy giants, the unsuspecting public would have consumed all the contaminated milk products which are now being removed from the market.
The health ministry should take cognisance of the claims that some milk food companies have given its officials bribes in kind such as foreign trips.
Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, who has rightly decided to listen to the GMOA and the ITI, and act accordingly in the face of pressure and resistance from powerful multinational companies, should go the whole hog to have the allegations of bribery and corruption against some of his ministry officials thoroughly probed.