After weeks of controversy, confusion and contradictory statements over the use of the chemical DCD, whey protein and unethical or exaggerated promotion of powdered milk from New Zealand, the Governments of the two countries appear to have come to an agreement for the common good of all. We hope that instead of allegedly toxic milk or crying over spilt milk, it will be a case of milk and honey again.
According to a statement from the Presidential Secretariat and reports from Radio New Zealand, the two Governments have agreed to work towards a dairy sector co-operation agreement following the fallout from the contamination scare over powdered milk from New Zealand’s trans-national dairy giant Fonterra.
New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully who made a one-day crisis visit to Sri Lanka and had talks with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the powerful Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, said they discussed expanding co-operation in the dairy sector. Minister McCully said Sri Lanka was keen to substantially revive and consolidate its domestic capacity to produce fresh milk and other dairy products, and acknowledged the expertise Fonterra could bring to that. Mr. McCully said they had agreed to work out a plan whereby both Governments could not only support Sri Lanka’s dairy growth, but also create a more certain trading environment for Fonterra. The agreement is expected to be signed when New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key visits Sri Lanka in November for the Commonwealth Summit.
A committee comprising several Cabinet Ministers is working out plans to revive Sri Lanka’s fresh milk sector, especially in vast rural areas. The 15,000-strong Government Medical Officers’ Association has proposed that interest-free loans and other facilities or subsidies be provided to tens of thousands of farmers to revive the fresh milk industry with the National Livestock Development Board (NLDB) and other state institutions working out effective plans to collect and market the fresh milk.
" Starting with milk, the Government needs to review the whole food import policy with the aim of reducing imports to save foreign exchange and also have a sustained check on the safety and quality of imported food items"
At present a cash-strapped Sri Lanka is spending up to 50,000 million rupees a year on the import of powdered milk and other dairy products, though nutrition scientists have pointed out that about half the nutritive value is taken out when fresh milk is processed into milk powder.
Thus by giving incentives to our farmers to revive the local fresh milk industry, the people of Sri Lanka would have access to more nutritious fresh milk while the country could save millions in foreign exchange by reducing the import of powdered milk.
In terms of the agreement to be signed by the two Governments, Fonterra would hopefully help local farmers to use high technology in milking the cows to reduce the possibility of contamination. It could also have its own fresh milk company competing with the state institutions in collecting and marketing milk. In the meantime those who still wish to have powdered milk mainly for reasons of convenience or taste would have access to it.
Starting with milk, the Government needs to review the whole food import policy with the aim of reducing imports to save foreign exchange and also have a sustained check on the safety and quality of imported food items. If the Health Ministry is unable to do this due to the lack of human and technological resources and also because of widespread corruption in the Ministry, then this task could be given to the Scientific Research and Technology Ministry, which first detected the agricultural chemical DCD in some stocks of powdered milk.
As a tropical paradise, Sri Lanka has enough varieties of rice, vegetables, fruits and other items to provide the food and nutrition that our people need. What is lacking is an effective food and nutrition policy, which the Government needs to work out and implement urgently.