Unlike the well-loved proverb about and love and influence of a mother, this is a case of the hand that rocked the cradle, milking the Third World dry. For several months the media have spotlighted the danger of agro-chemical contamination in some brands of imported milk powder. But the Rajapaksa regime is as usual mixing up the milk and honey with one ministry blaming the other for the inaction if not something worse that could cause serious harm to Sri Lanka’s people, especially hundreds of thousands of innocent children.
Over the weekend the New Zealand Government announced it was suspending the exports of a baby formula produced by one of the world’s largest trans-national milk companies. It said the suspension would be in force till investigations were conducted on reports that this infant formula contained a toxic bacteria that could cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, paralysis and possible death if not treated properly. China which is one of this milk company’s biggest markets has stopped imports pending investigations. So have Russia and at least five other countries.
Last Friday, the 15,000-strong Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) called on the Health Ministry to ban the import of powdered milk from New Zealand following a report by the Industrial Technological Institute (ITI) of the Ministry of Science and Technology. The ITI said it had conducted several tests on samples of this milk powder and found that they contained excessive amounts of an agro-chemical that could cause neurological, respiratory or kidney problems. The GMOA also said it would ask the CID to probe why the Health Ministry was not taking action despite the report by the ITI.
While the GMOA’s concern is appreciated, it is probably not aware that under the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) regulations the ban of any item is not easy because of the free trade policy. Instead the Health Ministry and the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) need to take urgent and effective action to educate and make the people aware of the possible contamination and danger in imported milk powder and dairy milk products. Millions of village people especially need to be made aware of this danger because they are spending their hard-earned money to buy a product that could be harmful to the health especially of the children. We no longer have a state media but what is maintained at enormous public expense is a Government media—television, newspapers and radio stations-that are being used in a blatant and crude manner for propaganda of the ruling UPFA. Instead of this the Rajapaksas regime if it is concerned about the welfare and wellbeing of millions of people must use the public-funded media to make the people aware of the dangers in imported powder milk and other dairy products.
Science and Technology Minister Champika Ranawaka has reportedly asked why civic society is not protesting about the possible danger in imported milk products. The minister is right. Civil society appears to be dead or dying and most people appear to have turned a virtue into a vice because their silence on such important issues is certainly not golden. The Minister also needs to ask professional bodies like the Nutrition Society of Sri Lanka as to why they are not warning the people and taking action on such dangers which are coming in the form of therapeutic nutritional supplements.
As we have said earlier the long-term solution to this crisis over imported milk products is to take steps to revive Sri Lanka’s dairy milk industry which was a thriving and healthy industry till the 1970s when trans-national milk companies and their agents here gradually undermined it. We urge the Rajapaksa regime to put Sri Lanka’s development plans on the milky-way by reviving the dairy milk industry.