Imported milk powder: Rajitha says he can ‘educate’ President

Rajitha Senaratne

Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne told the media yesterday (Feb 19) at the Information Department that he could have explained the situation to President Maithripala Sirisena if the latter had raised the issue of contaminated milk powder products at the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Dr. Senaratne said so when The Island sought a clarification. The officials of the Healthn Ministry, the Sri Lanka Standards and the Government Analyst Department officials, present at the media briefing, at the Information Department assusred the media that the imported milk powder was of good quality.

Dr. Senaratne flayed those who questioned the quality of the milk products available in the market following President Sirisena’s declaration in Polonnaruwa that the imported milk powder wasn’t good for human consumption. President Sirisena lumped milk powder importers together with those of liquor, tobacco and narcotics.

Addressing a gathering on Feb 15 President Sirisena claimed that when he held the health portfolio milk importers had not bee accommodated under any circumstances.

Alleging that interested parties had politicized milk powder issue, Dr Senaratne said that those who questioned the quality of the products weren’t aware of the actual situation. Recollecting measures taken by him in respect of multinationals, Dr. Senaratne challenged his critics to reveal what they had done to rein in multinationals.

Asked by The Island whether the ministry would seek a meeting with President Sirisena to assure him of the quality of products, Dr. Anil Jasinghe, Director General Health Services said they would do so soon.

Dr. Senaratne said: “This is not a political issue. It is an issue of nourishment. The issue of milk food imports to the country should be treated separately.”

Responding to another query, Dr. Senaratne found fault obviously with President Sirisena for condemning imported milk products without suggesting suitable alternative to meet the requirements of the population.

Dr. Jayasinghe, Dr. Lakshman Gamlath (Director General, Health and Food Safety), Deepika Seneviratne (Deputy Government Analyst), Mrs Dayani Yapa (Senior Deputy Director, Sri Lanka Standards Institution) and Dr. Renuka Jayathissa (Consultant Medical Nutritionist) strongly defended the quality of imported milk powder.

Dr. Senaratne said that some members of the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) had contacted Dr. Jayathissa as regards this issue. They hadn’t been happy when she explained the correct situation, Dr. Senaratne said.

Deepika Seneviratne and Dayani Yapa explained how imported milk powder were subject to stringent tests in terms of SLS 731 2008. They insisted that there was absolutely no basis for accusations as regards quality and safety standards. They discussed measures in place to protect the interests of the consumers.

Yapa urged the public not to be confused by those propagating unsubstantiated accusations. According to her, there had been a similar crisis way back in 2007. Following that crisis, additional safeguards had been introduced to thwart contaminated milk food coming in.

Dr. Gamlath explained measures in place, both here and abroad to ensure that New Zealand products did not contain fats and oils of non dairy origin. The official discussed the apparatus in place to constantly monitor the products. Reiterating his confidence in pre-shipment testing carried out by the exporting country (New Zealand), Dr. Gamlath said that SLSI, Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board as well as food laboratories run by the Health Ministry and ITI assured the imported milk powder hadn’t been adulterated with vegetable fat or any other fat.

Dr. Jasinghe recalled the circumstances under which influential persons had intervened following the detection of a large stock of imported canned fish contaminated with worms. Dr. Jasinghe explained how they with the backing of Er. Senaratne proceeded with the inquiry in spite of efforts to influence them. A smiling DGHS revealed how a certain party urged the release of canned fish tins contaminated with two worms. Dr. Jasinghe assured the public that they would act responsibly regarding food safety issues.

Dr. Senaratne reacted angrily when a representative of the social media sought his response to accusations as regards contaminated milk powder by Industries and Commerce Deputy Minister Buddhika Pathirana and the GMOA.

The GMOA at logger heads with Dr. Senaratne on Monday (Feb 18) in writing requested President Sirisena to take over the health ministry pending a comprehensive investigation into the minister’s conduct.

Dismissing their accusations, Dr. Senaratne told the media to report what they said at the media conference. “We have done our part now its your responsibility,” Dr. Senaratne said, accusing the media of causing trouble. Quoting a senior Buddhist monk, Dr. Senaratne alleged that like extremist politicians, the media, too, caused substantial damage.

Deputy Minister Pathirana on Feb. 05, 2019 claimed in parliament that he was aware of the availability of some contaminated milk products in the local market. On the following day, National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, in parliament urged Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to inquire into the matter. On Feb 07, Dr. Senaratne told parliament there was no basis for these allegations. Then, Deputy Minister Pathirana repeated the accusations on Feb. 08. President Sirisena flayed milk food importers on Feb. 15.

(Source: The Island – By Shamindra Ferdinando)