The need to immediately and effectively revive a Sri Lankan dairy farming industry and produce fresh milk for Sri Lanka was underlined by the weekend disclosure that huge stocks of milk powder imported from New Zealand may be contaminated by a toxic chemical and even by radiation.
On Friday Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena said in Parliament he was appealing to the people not to use milk powder from New Zealand until conclusive scientific tests were conducted about the possible harmful effects. The Minister told Parliament that the reports that chemicals used to spray grasslands in New Zealand were contaminating the milk, had to be taken seriously. He said he believed that even the kidney disease epidemic mainly in the North Central Province may have been aggravated when contaminated milk was added to contaminated water.
Sri Lanka’s Atomic Energy Authority Chairman Ranjith Laxman Wijewardena told our sister paper the Sunday Times that New Zealand authorities had recently asked the AEA to suspend tests being conducted on random samples of milk power imported from that country. According to him two officials from New Zealand’s Small Industries Ministry recently visited Sri Lanka and met AEA officials and requested the suspension of tests for radiation in New Zealand milk power. But he vowed the AEA would not bow to any foreign pressure and he had issued orders that the radiation test be continued. Meanwhile, on a directive from President Mahinda Rajapaksa the Consumer Affairs Authority had sent samples of New Zealand milk power to a Singapore laboratory for test to ascertain whether they contain Dicyandiamide (DCD), a hazardous agro chemical. CEA Director Chandrika Thilakaratne had said a report had been received from Singapore and it had been sent to the Food Control Administration Unit of the Health Ministry.
Some of these brands of milk powder are being promoted extensively and the government needs to review the ethical issues involved here because of the reports of possible contamination by toxic chemicals and also radioactive contamination resulting from the radiation leak at Fukushima in Japan two years ago.
Most importantly the government needs to act fast in reviving the local dairy farming industry. Till 1977 - when Sri Lanka swallowed the globalised capitalist market economic policy presuming it was all milk and honey - Sri Lanka had a vibrant fresh milk industry. Fresh milk sellers came to almost every house while the National Milk Board’s fresh milk bars were set up at every junction and widely patronised. But gradually in a subtle way transnational milk powder companies aided and abetted by Sri Lankan vested interests virtually destroyed the diary farming industry.
As a first step, government needs to offer incentives and subsidies to farmers to buy cows and give them grasslands to renew the dairy industry. An effective marketing process, as we had before 1977, needs to be arranged and people must be made aware that fresh local milk is not only safer but also much more nourishing than any imported milk powder.