Feb 19, Colombo: Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Minister of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, requested the politicians screaming on stage to reveal the measures taken by them against the multinational companies.
Speaking at a press conference held at the Department of Government Information Tuesday with the participation of specialist doctors and experts in the country, the Minister said the milk powder is not a political issue.
"Milk powder is not a political issue. It's a question about nutrition. We should take a separate decision whether the country imports milk powder or not."
The Minister said he takes decisions based on scientific studies, not on word of mouth.
"At World Health Organization I argued with the U.S. and get Breast Milk proposal approved, I introduced sugar-free beverages to local market through imposing sugar taxes, controlled prices of essential medicines, imposed taxes on tobacco. I took these measures based on scientific studies. I did not boast by mouth. I urge politicians boasting at platforms and forums to reveal the measures they have taken against multi-national companies," the Minister said.
"There is no need to talk about milk powder at media forums and political stages. Milk is a matter of nutrition. Some people declare that they can live without milk. The rich can, but hard for the poor in the village," he added.
The Minister also criticized the President for raising milk powder issue in media. "The President could have discussed the matter at the cabinet meeting, but he didn't do so."
President Maithripala Sirisena recently said that consumption of some imported milk power, would not be healthy for the population and milk powder importers should not be allowed to handle people's health.
Dr. Senaratne urged the politicians not to use the milk powder issue for political purposes. He said the media briefing was held to raise awareness among public on the issue.
Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Director General of Health Services speaking at the media briefing said the issue of the standard of milk powder is a priority which needs to be addressed and there is a social dialogue.
He said the Ministry of Health is keen on developing the liquid milk industry in Sri Lanka, but until it is developed the gap is filled by the imported milk powder. "It is important if we can switch to fresh milk from milk powder. The Health Ministry is not representing Milk Powder companies," he added.
Dr. Jasinghe said the public has been frightened about the milk powder issue and they need to be made aware of the measures taken by the Health Ministry.
He said the Ministry has taken a number of steps to prevent feeding powdered milk to infants, and Sri Lanka is the only country in the world where 100 percent of babies are breastfed. Direct or indirect advertising of milk powder for infants have been halted.
Consultant Pediatricians and Family Health Officers have focused their attention on the issue, according to the health official.
Dr. Jasinghe added that a number of scientific studies have been done on the standard of imported milk powder and the President will be apprised of the results. He added that the Health Ministry is responsible for standard of imported foods.
Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Health (Food Control) specialist Dr. Lakshman Gamlath said his unit is responsible for testing the standards of imported foods including powdered milk marketed worldwide.
"We also check the quality of imported milk powder marketed internationally. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Agriculture Organization have established a joint institution to test standards. An international standard has been developed for milk powder and it has been revised by the end of 2018. Milk powder imported to Sri Lanka should be of SLS 731 standard. It has been made a law under the Food Act," Dr. Gamlath said.
According to the official, the samples of imported milk powder are tested at the harbor. Furthermore, the country exporting milk powder provides a health certificate confirming the stocks meet the importing country's standards.
The milk powder samples obtained at the port are further tested by laboratories, Medical Research institutions, National Institute of Health, Atomic Energy Authority and the Government Analyst Department.
Dr. Gamlath said all these tests have revealed that there are no other substances in milk powder. Investigations have revealed that only milk fat is in the milk powder samples.
"No problems have surfaced when checking the quality according to Sri Lanka standards. The rumors spreading rumors have no scientific basis," Dr. Gamlath stressed.
Deepika Seneviratne, Deputy Director of the Government Analyst Department said, every kind of milk powder imported are tested according to the regulations of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution.
"A special method has been introduced to identify milk fat. Every milk powder packet should contain an amount of milk fat ranging from 24 to 32 mg. If other fats are added, the value changes. Following claims that milk powder imported from New Zealand in 2007, contained other vegetable and animal fats, regulations were changed in 2009. From the tests we have done, we didn't see any reduction in milk fats. Our tests have confined there are no other fats in imported milk powder," Seneviratne said.
Dayani Yapa, Senior Deputy Director, Sri Lanka Standards Institution said milk powder has been tested by the Institution under SLS 731 for milk fats and other type of fats. After checking the samples of milk powder, the reports are given to the Sri Lanka Customs.
"The statement that milk powder imported to Sri Lanka is not inspected is incorrect. Currently the milk powder in Sri Lanka complies with our standards," she said.