- Criticises milk powder companies for importing substandard products
- Insists local dairy production must increase to meet demand
- Says milk powder companies lobbied for support when he was Health Minister
- Plans to take on moonshine producers in next two weeks
President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday criticised multinational milk powder companies for importing substandard products to Sri Lanka and called for the local dairy industry to be developed to meet consumer needs.
Speaking in Polonnaruwa, President Sirisena referred to the recent statements in Parliament by Industry and Commerce Deputy Minister Buddhika Pathirana, who accused imported milk powder of being contaminated with pork fat and palm oil. Pathirana said he made the statements to Parliament based on complaints made to the Industry and Commerce Ministry.
Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne subsequently argued against the statement, denying any contamination and pointing out that all imported milk powder is subjected to quality tests by the Sri Lankan authorities and the importers. Parliamentarians had also requested Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee to probe the allegations.
President Sirisena, however, insisted that imported milk powder should be reduced and locally produced milk should be expanded to ensure quality nutrition. Polonnaruwa is one of the largest dairy producing regions in Sri Lanka.
“No matter who says what, powdered milk is not suitable for human consumption. These are made by multinational companies. When I say these things, they will get angry with me. Everyone is angry with me these days; drug barons, tobacco companies, fraudulent pharmaceutical companies. They are all upset with me. But no matter who gets angry with me, these things must be said. For a country to develop, local milk production must increase,” he told the gathering.
President Sirisena recalled that decades ago, rural families used to collect milk from cows raised at home and advocated it as the best policy.
“When I was going to school, when I was about 15 years old, we had milk from the cow that was brought up at home. When we woke up, I used to take a tin and milk the cow. We used to refer to the cow as ‘milk mother’. It was only after I milked the cow and handed over the tin to my mother that I would go to school. If we work according to the whims of these milk powder companies, then that is wrong.”
Sirisena hinted that milk powder importing companies work hard to promote their products but suggested that Government authorities should not give way to their influence.
“I was Health Minister for five years and representatives of milk powder companies came after me then, but I never allowed them to come even inside the gate of my home. I never allowed them to come to my Ministry. That was how I worked.”
Sirisena noted that the issue of possible contaminants in milk powder caused much consternation in Parliament.
“I heard the Speaker had to assure Parliamentarians they are only served liquid milk,” he added.
President Sirisena also said that in the next two weeks, he would work to nab illegal distilleries and producers of moonshine as the next step in his campaign to end drug and alcohol abuse in the country.
“I will begin to tackle the moonshine menace in this country and wipe out all illicit liquor sales from villages.”
Currently, Sri Lanka only producers about 40% of milk needed for consumption within the country and imports much of the rest. However, the Sri Lankan dairy industry has been protected with preferential taxes and other measures by successive governments for many years, pushing up prices of dairy products such as cheese. Higher prices make it harder for the average public to purchase dairy products and despite many tax-payer funded programs over the years to import cows to increase milk production, many issues remain in the supply chain.