Is there DCD (dicyandiamide) in milk or isn’t there? This is the simple question that the people are still grappling with, as they were bombarded by scientific data and technical detail, with still no clear statement from the Government. Even the seven-member Cabinet sub-committee, which Cabinet spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella promised would come up with [...]


No clear answer from Govt. to murky milk issue


Is there DCD (dicyandiamide) in milk or isn’t there?

This is the simple question that the people are still grappling with, as they were bombarded by scientific data and technical detail, with still no clear statement from the Government.

Even the seven-member Cabinet sub-committee, which Cabinet spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella promised would come up with a report this week does not seem to have met that expectation, the Sunday Times understands.

On the DCD front, all tests by the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) on milk powder samples from market shelves as well as from the port have got a clean bill. They are all DCD-free, it is learnt. (Earlier, a sole test, the report of which came out on July 26, indicated that four foreign brands had DCD.)

This was once again amidst a flurry of media briefings and panel discussions by “experts” and the decision on Friday by Fonterra Cooperatives headquartered in New Zealand to suspend operations in Sri Lanka temporarily due to “an unstable situation” in the country.

While Fonterra’s Chief Executive Officer Theo Spierings said “the temporary suspension is the right thing to do. It is a precautionary measure to ensure our 755 people working there are safe. We have closed our plants and office in Sri Lanka, and have asked our people to stay at home,” the employees in Sri Lanka were fearful of what the future held for them.

Mr. Spierings said that at the same time, “we must do all that we can to protect our farmer shareholders’ investment in Fonterra’s Sri Lanka manufacturing and commercial operations,” adding that Fonterra has provided every possible assurance to the Sri Lankan authorities about the safety and quality of Fonterra’s products, and remains committed to the Sri Lankan people.

It was not only the temporary shutdown that had Fonterra employees in Sri Lanka worried about where the rice and curry would come to feed their children if it became a permanent stand, but also the fact that protestors on Thursday threateningly flexed their muscles in front of the Fonterra factory at Biyagama.

The suspension of operations would have a ripple effect, was the view of an analyst, who pointed out that the people involved in the distribution network as well as the local farmers whom Fonterra was helping to establish local dairy production would also be affected.
By Friday even though the Gampaha District Court also lifted the enjoining order on Fonterra with regard to selling or distributing its products, the murkiness of the milk issue had not cleared.

What of the economic fall-out, another source questioned, while others were pondering on the “signal” being sent to investors.
All this controversy is over just one packet of milk each tested from two brands of Fonterra and two other brands of imported milk powder, the source pointed out. (See box) After the initial report of July 26, the ITI has tested eight random milk powder samples taken off the shelf and 15 samples from consignments at the port sent by the Health Ministry, said Chief Executive Officer and Director Dr. G.A.S. Premakumara. No DCD has been detected in any of them, it is learnt, with Dr. Premakumara’s explanation being that they are from batches different to those from which the original samples which were positive, were taken. (See box for initial report findings)
When asked by the Sunday Times, why amidst much controversy (with vociferous denials by Fonterra that no DCD-contaminated milk powder came to Sri Lanka) about the first set of samples, more samples from the same batch are not being tested for DCD to establish beyond reasonable doubt the earlier findings of DCD, Dr. Premakumara says the matter will be attended to soon.

Tests are carried out once in two days on five HPLC (High Performance Liquid Chromatography) machines and 15 samples can be tested at once. “We are hoping to increase that number to 20 samples per test,” he said.

Refuting claims that only one method should be used to test milk for DCD, Research and Technology Minister Champika Ranawaka under whose ministry is ITI, said the findings do not change though the method may differ.

When asked whether a sweeping statement could be made that there was DCD in milk powder after testing just one sample, Minister Ranawaka pointed out that even a single discovery of DCD is enough to falsify Fonterra’s claim of not having DCD in its products sent to us.

“It is enough to falsify a theory with one such discovery,” he said, adding that no one can claim that DCD is not harmful just because its effects are not known yet. That will come many years later.

“DCD contains a molecule of cyanide, which everyone knows is harmful,” the Minister said.

Views  from the Cabinet sub-committee

The seven-member Cabinet sub-committee which is looking into food safety issues has found that the capacity to test food is not adequate, Minister Ranawaka said, citing the example of no tests being done on alcohol.

The sub-committee is headed by Human Resources Senior Minister D.E.W. Gunasekera and comprises Scientific Affairs Senior Minister Tissa Vitharana, International Monetary Cooperation Senior Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, Internal Trade and Cooperatives Minister Johnston Fernando, Livestock and Rural Community Development Minister Arumugam Thondaman and Minister Ranawaka

“Capacity enhancement of our labs is a need,” said Mr. Ranawaka, adding that the Food Act is also outdated.  Citing the example that the Food Controller cannot raid any factory without the Medical Officer of Health or Public Health Inspector being present, he said the Food Controller should be given wide-ranging powers.

A new facility for ITI, meanwhile, is under construction at Malabe with Japanese aid. It should be functional next year, he added.

No Clostridium botulinum

Ten imported brands containing whey protein have been tested for Clostridium botulinum bacterium at the Medical Research Institute and found to be negative, a Health Ministry spokesman said.

This was as many experts questioned whether the tests were valid and whether the MRI had developed the cultures required to test samples for both the bacterium and the toxins produced by it.

ITI first report and reports now

While current testing of milk powder samples by the ITI have come up ‘negative’ for DCD, the row over DCD erupted when ITI put out a report on the ‘Establishment of rapid HPLC method to detect DCD in milk powder and analysis results of few selected milk powder samples’ dated July 26.

According to the July 26 report the samples tested were:

  • 1 sample of Anchor full Cream (Fonterra) of this one sample, 10 sub-samples had been taken.
  • 1 sample of Anchor 1+ (Fonterra) — of this one sample, 4 sub-samples had been taken.
  • 1 sample of Maliban – of this one sample, 4 sub-samples had been taken.
  • 1 sample of Diamond – of this one sample, 2 sub-samples had been taken.
  • 1 sample of Highland – of this one sample, 5 sub-samples had been taken.
  • 1 sample of Pelwatte — of this one sample, 5 sub-samples had been taken.

The equipment the ITI used and is using is the High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) along with UV Spectrometry. The ITI laboratory is internationally accredited but this method which needs specific international accreditation has not received it so far.

In the first report, the ITI contention was that:

  • Each sample of Anchor Full Cream & Anchor 1+ (manufactured in October-November 2012) had DCD.
  • The sample of Maliban Non-fat (manufactured in November 2012) had DCD
  • The sample of Diamond Full-Cream (manufactured in February 2012) had DCD
  • The samples each of Highland and Pelwatte did not have DCD.

Fonterra hotly contested the ITI report reiterating that no-DCD contaminated milk was ever sent to Sri Lanka. It also produced an independent expert’s counter to the ITI report. Maliban group too is up in arms over the July 26 report, categorically stating that the Australian Government has given a formal assurance that no DCD has been used in that country for 100 years.

“Was there a mix-up of the test samples,” wondered Maliban Chief Executive Officer D.L. Weerasooriya, assuring that all their milk powder is 100% Australian.

Samples of the same batch sent to Singapore for testing for DCD have come negative, he added. When the Sunday Times asked Minister Champika Ranawaka under whose ministry comes the ITI about this issue, he said that it needs to be checked out by Maliban.

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