Health and Nutrition Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Health Director General Dr. Anil Jasinghe and Dr. Renuka Jayatissa at the press conference held yesterday. Picture by Wimal Karunathilake
Health and Nutrition Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Health Director General Dr. Anil Jasinghe and Dr. Renuka Jayatissa at the press conference held yesterday. Picture by Wimal Karunathilake

Tests on imported milk powder have proved that it does not contain fats or harmful substances, Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne and a group of experts disclosed yesterday.

Allegations regarding the quality of imported milk powder are baseless and all tests with regard to imported milk powder had proved this, experts said.

Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne told a media briefing held at the Government Information Department yesterday that there have been numerous allegations regarding the quality of milk powder imported to the country. “Although some try to politicize this issue, it is a scientific matter and not a political matter. This is a matter of nutrition and whether the country needs powdered milk or not is a separate matter.

The proposal to provide breast milk to babies instead of powdered milk has so far not been approved. Last year the proposal was passed due to my constant debates with the US.

The American Government was adamant about the use of powdered milk in support of these milk powder companies,  but I am happy that I could make submissions that breast milk is the most suited for newborns. Similarly, we have acted appropriately against the use of tobacco and imposed a 90% tax on tobacco in an attempt to reduce tobacco usage. We have also imposed a 50 cents tax on every 1 gram of sugar in sweetened drinks, initially reducing the sugar content in drinks by 10% and thereafter introducing unsweetened drinks to the local market. We have also regulated the prices of many drugs imported by multinational companies and have reduced the price of drugs. We have not just played lip service but have proved our commitment. To those who have much to say today, I challenge them to prove what they have done in terms of controlling these multinational companies manipulation of prices. It is easy to make accusations on stage and at press conferences, but every decision I have taken has been scientifically based and not just haphazardly. When we regulated drug prices, people with vested interests tried to attack me, but we pointed out to them that we had used international data to back our decisions. They initially wanted Rs.5 million to provide us with the data, but after I explained, they gave us the data free. When we explained to the European Union, they said we have been very rational and very scientific in our approach. We did all this for the benefit of the people.”

He noted that in the case of imported milk powder, it is a decision to be made politically whether or not to import powdered milk.The local liquid milk production is just 10% of the requirement. Hence, he questioned what would happen to the nutritional standard of our children if the country stops powdered milk imports?

“The WHO requested us not to take the same stand on milk powder as we did with sweetened beverages as milk is a nutritional supplement. Some feel there is no need for milk. Yes, those who have the money can instead get that nutrition through cheese, butter etc. But, for the poor man the best and cheapest source of protein is milk. Taking into consideration this fact, anyone can decide to stop importing milk powder,” the minister said, adding that however, the quality of the imported milk powder should be determined through scientific testing methods in order to ensure the quality of the imported milk powder.

Director General of Health Services (Chief Food Authority) Dr. Anil Jasinghe said the foremost responsibility is to determine if the imported milk powder meets proper nutritional standards. This is not a political issue and the Health Ministry too would like to see the people consume fresh milk rather than powdered milk. Unlike in the past where liquid milk was freely available, today liquid milk production is insufficient to meet the demand. Hence, milk powder is imported to fill that gap. If the government takes a policy decision and the people are prepared to make a cultural change to switch to liquid milk, then that is most acceptable to us as the Health Ministry.

In Sri Lanka, the Health Ministry has gone to extremes to prevent powdered milk been given to infants and promote breast feeding. As a result in Sri Lanka exclusive breast feeding is at 80% among the highest in the world. This did not simply happen, but it is a result of constant effort to promote breast feeding. Therefore, he assured that the Health Ministry has conducted all possible tests to ensure that there is absolutely no harmful chemicals of any other fat added to powdered milk powder.

Commenting on the quality of imported milk powder, Deputy Director General Environmental Health and Food Safety, Dr. Lakshman Gamlath said samples of imported milk powder is sent to local laboratories for testing in addition to the certification issued by the country from which the milk powder is imported. After having carried out all these tests it is determined that the tested parameters of the samples conform to the limit specified by Sri Lanka for imported milk powder. “Milk is an internationally traded food item and there is an international standard for powdered milk. Based on international standards we test around 101 food items under the Food Act. In the case of imported milk powder we first check the exporters certification, in this case by New Zealand and it certifies that the milk powder is derived from dairy cows and do not contain fats or oils of non-dairy origin and does not contain melamine. It also assures that it does not exceed the specified radiation levels. Then we send these samples to government labs for testing and based on their reports the milk powder was found to contain no additional fats or harmful chemicals,” he assured.

Deputy Government Analyst Deepika Seneviratne said all imported milk is tested according to SLS specifications of 2008. Accordingly, butter fat contained in milk powder should be between 24-32, but if another fat is mixed into the milk instead of milk fat, this value would definitely change. However, in testing of the imported milk powder, there has not been any change observed in the butter fat content.

Senior Deputy Director of the Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI) Dayani Yapa said the SLS certification is awarded only if the milk powder conforms to all standards and the imported milk powder has also been subject to stringent testing and found to be safe.

“We look at the Health Ministry and SLSI standard certification and only then do we approve it being released for public consumption. Not just one institution but several institutions conduct numerous tests prior to determining its suitability”, she said.


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