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Sri Lanka: Food Safety Measures Approved

(Sept. 5, 2013) It was announced on August 29, 2013, that Sri Lanka’s Cabinet has approved a set of measures designed to make imported food safe for consumers. The immediate concern is the contamination of imported milk powder with dicyandiamide (DCD), a chemical used in agriculture, and of whey protein concentrate with the bacteria clostridium botulinum. These measures follow the appointment on August 15 of a Cabinet sub-committee to look into the contamination of imported milk powder. This sub-committee is headed by the Senior Minister for Human Resources, D.E.W. Gunasekara, and includes six other ministers. (Sri Lanka Cabinet Approves Measures to Ensure Food Safety, COLOMBO PAGE (Aug. 29, 2013).)

In early August 2013, Sri Lanka required the New Zealand company Fonterra to withdraw its shipments of milk powder from the Sri Lankan market, due to tests in the country finding DCD contamination in the powder. Fonterra disputed the finding, claiming that the testing had been inaccurate. Previously, infant formula, sports drinks, and animal feed exported by Fonterra to a number of countries were recalled due to the possibility they had been contaminated with the clostridium botulinum bacteria; that fear proved to be unfounded. Sales of Fonterra products have resumed in Sri Lanka. (Fonterra Withdraws Milk Powder from Sri Lanka, THE NEW YORK TIMES (Aug. 11, 2013); Fonterra Products Didn’t Have Botulism Bacteria After All, New Zealand Tests Show, REUTERS (Aug. 28, 2013).)

The current recommendation by the ministers is that three Sri Lankan government agencies, the Ministry of Health, the Consumer Affairs Authority, and the Industrial Technology Institute, be required to cooperate on the issue of food safety. (Ministry of Health website; Consumer Affairs Authority website; & Industrial Technology Institute website (all last visited Sept. 3, 2013).) The other suggested measures include:

  • improving the staffing and facilities of the Chief Food Authority, as well as the capacity of local labs to do needed testing of foods;
  • acquiring a Liquid Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer for the Industrial Technical Institute, to assist in testing milk powder samples for contamination with agrochemicals;
  • inspecting food manufacturing plants in Sri Lanka to review manufacturing practices;
  • creating a Ministry of Health program to promote breast feeding and the drinking of locally produced milk in liquid form;
  • publishing a Ministry of Health notice in newspapers, describing the issue of milk safety for the public;
  • instituting a labeling system for products that are free of DCD and clostridium botulinum, as well as informing the public of steps taken to make sure that food is safe;
  • introducing food safety tests to be implemented before imported goods are cleared by customs, under a plan to be developed jointly by the customs office, the Medical Research Institute, and the Industrial Technical Institute, so as to meet international standards; and
  • directing the Chief Food Authority and the Consumer Affairs Authority to withdraw from the market any imported milk products suspected to be contaminated. (Sri Lanka Cabinet Approves Measures to Ensure Food Safety, supra.)

The Chief Food Authority is the Director of Health Services and supervises, guides, and co-ordinates the work of all local-level food authorities. (Chief Food Authority, An Act to Regulate and Control the Manufacture, Importation, Sale and Distribution of Food … (1981), § 11, LAWNET.)