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Sunday, 19 May 2013

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Govt imposes strict guidelines on DCD and radiation testing:

Milk powder controversy continues

The controversial milk powder crisis that ran for weeks is still continuing when the Consumer Affairs Authority was ordered to test a new batch of samples collected from the market, after considerably high levels of Dicyandiamide was traced in two of the five imported milk powder brands that were subjected to recent tests, prior to a decision to be taken whether to ban it in Sri Lanka.

The crisis deepened when rumours started to spread that there is something more in the milk powder crisis than a mere agro-chemical contamination. This came to light with the statement made by UNP General Secretary, Tissa Attanayake that this is one of the government's ploys to increase milk powder prices.

JVP Parliamentarian, Anura Kumara Dissanayake said testing by the Government is to drop certain foreign milk food importers who do not abide by trade conditions laid down by the Government and to encourage a few selected importers who are favourable to them.

Minister of Cooperatives and Internal Trade Johnston Fernando on Thursday ordered a second test to be conducted on milk powder samples found in the market following the three key points adopted at the recent discussion held by the Food Advisory Committee.

The 19-member committee chaired by Director General Health Services, Dr. Palitha Mahipala considering all the aspects involving the issue adopted three important steps.

They were to inform all foreign milk powder importers to submit a declaration certificate stating that the product was DCD free, test all the new consignments that reached after March 2013 and to appoint a sub committee to look into health hazards caused after consuming the milk food and also to check toxic levels in milk powder and go through relevant literature to introduce a minimum international standard of DCD in the milk if there was any.

However, the World Health Organisation in response to the Department of Health Services said that the amount of DCD found in milk powder was minimal and cannot be considered harmful for human consumption. The WHO was replying to a letter sent by the Department of Health Services a few weeks ago requesting for details related to DCD and its effects. The WHO also stated that there is no current international standard for DCD set up yet.

However, the Consumer Affairs Authority was continuing tests of levels of DCD found in milk regardless of the statement from the WHO that there is no current standard limit for DCD and that such a minute percentage would not harm humans at all.

 

No radioactive material in milk powder - AEA



Chairman AEA, Dr. Ranjith Wijeyawardena

The Atomic Energy Authority is another institute that tests milk powder. Apart from the toxic chemicals that are believed to have been mixed in the milk powder, AEA is testing whether the products have radiation.

Testing milk food for radiation has been carried out for the past two decades AEA Chairman, Dr. Ranjith Wijeyawardena assured that not a single sample of radioactive milk powder was found during that period.

He said the necessity to test milk powder for radiation is important since the Chernobyl Disaster in Ukraine in 1986, which is considered to be the worst nuclear power plant accident in history and a large quantities of radioactive particles were released into the atmosphere.

These particles with time have settled on soil and scientists believe that large pastures of grass are also affected by it. The cows eating that grass get the radiation in their body automatically and in the milk they generate.

It is hazardous to health if humans especially children consume the radioactive milk, Dr. Wijeyawardena said.

The AEA which is armed with the best nuclear scientists in the country and millions of rupees worth of state-of-the-art equipment is checking radiation food items like milk powder and canned fish. The measurement used to measure the radiation is called Becquerel or Bq. The international standard for milk powder is below 20 Bq and 100 Bq for canned fish.

However, during the tests the AEA has not found any radioactive samples of milk food which is similar to almost 0 Bq. Checking canned fish for radiation began since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

Where large amounts of sea water was used to cool the nuclear plant which was later released back to the ocean with radioactive particles where billions of fish consume this.

Responding to this, the Director of Information, Consumer Affairs Authority, Chandrika Thilakaratne told the Sunday Observer that testing has to be done although there is no standard levels a yet. "DCD levels were traced for the first time and although the amounts are minimal it does not mean that it would not have an effect on humans in the long run, especially children who consume it," she said.

The Consumer Affairs Authority had taken powders samples that are imported which had been sent for laboratory tests last week. The samples were sent to Singapore since we do not posses such advances laboratory facilities at present to test and verify.

The inquiry has been initiated by Chairman CAA, Rumi Marzook following a directive made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa after the problem of contaminated milk food was reported through the media a few weeks ago.

Declining to reveal the names of the five imported brands that were subject to tests Ms. Thilakaratne said four of them were from New Zealand and one from Australia. The CAA had obtained a report containing the results of the laboratory tests which had been submitted to the Food Advisory Committee who will take a final decision on the milk food crisis.

She said although various tests are being carried out by the CAA, SLS, ITI or AEI the final decision will be taken by the Food Advisory Committee who had the sole authority to approve or prohibit food products in the country.

Refusing to reveal the level of DCD found in the five tested milk samples due to a standard security policy maintained by the items subjected to tests by the CAA, Ms. Thilakaratne said the samples of the five brands had been sent to the Food Advisory Authority under a special coding.

It was following this move that Minister Johnston Fernando ordered to conduct another test on the latest batch of milk powder imported after March and that the samples were sent to at least three different countries to get a comprehensive unbiased report, Ms. Thilakaratne said.

The crisis came to light in September 2012 when traces of DCD were found in milk produced by New Zealand company Fonterra. The New Zealand government, Fonterra and Federated Farmers of New Zealand moved quickly to reassure the public and overseas buyers that there was no risk to health. The levels were low and attempts were made to prevent the test results from being reported in the media, foreign media reports stated.

Following these reports the Ministry of Health and CAA received a number of public complaints that lead to initiating a comprehensive investigation.

In the meantime attempts were made by the New Zealand milk importers to convince the Ministry of Health and other relevant parties involved in the investigation that the milk is hundred percent pure and free of chemicals. Representatives from the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries visited Sri Lanka in late April, who met officials of the CAA and Atomic Energy Authority and requested to stop the investigations and let the milk products flow as usual saying they are free of chemicals or radiation.

Chairman Atomic Energy Authority, Dr. Ranjith Wijeyawardena told the Sunday Observer that the two representatives repeatedly requested to cease testing being carried out on the milk powder. They have said that their country is clean and the grass that is consumed by cows to generate milk is free of chemicals. This was confirmed by CAA Director, Chandrika Thilakaratne who said that the same party even visited them making the same request. The representatives have reportedly reiterated the fact that their country does not use the agro-chemical DCD on grass.

However, the Food Advisory Committee decided to continue its tests despite these interventions and found that some of the samples tested contained considerable amounts of DCD.

Deputy Director General Public Health Services Dr. Sarath Amunugama told the Sunday Observer that although there were no adverse effects reported against DCD, earlier testing has to be done as a health precautionary. He said considerable amount of DCD was found in two of the five different samples of imported milk powder brands tested in a special laboratory in Singapore. Because of that the tests had to be continued and a special sub committee has been appointed to study further into this.

What is DCD?

Dicyandiamide (DCD) also known as 2-Cyanoguanidine is a nitrogen inhibitor in the form of an agro-chemical. It has been used in New Zealand Since 2004 by farmers hoping to lower the environmental impact of livestock by reducing the rate at which soil microbes convert ammonia from animal urine into nitrates and nitrous oxide, thus slowing nitrate leaching from pasture.

The special sub committee comprise representatives of Consumer Affairs Authority, Government Analyst Department, Sri Lanka Standard Institute, Ministry of Health and City Analyst of the Colombo Municipality. Meanwhile, importers of Anchor milk powder Fonterra Brands Lanka Managing Director Leon Clement said that 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. At these levels, United Nations data suggests that the table salt sitting in your kitchen is more of a risk to humans than DCD. Issuing a general press release Clement welcomed the Sri Lankan government's decision to re-test their samples of imported milk powder. However it further stated that Independent and internationally accredited testing laboratories - the Cawthron Institute and AsureQuality have carried out hundreds of tests on New Zealand milk powder produced since September 2012 and all of these tests have found that New Zealand dairy products are hundred percent safe. And that the DCD is no longer used in New Zealand farms.

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