By Charumini de Silva
The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) yesterday ordered the withdrawal of all coconut oil stock under the brand name ‘N-Joy’ from the market after tests revealed the presence of carcinogenic aflatoxin, a cancer causing substance, in the product.
The qualitative tests conducted at both Peradeniya University, and the Institute of Industrial Technology (IIT) confirmed that N-Joy coconut oil samples had the presence of aflatoxin. These samples, included well-known brands and non-branded coconut oil.
Following the detection, the CAA has decided to withdraw the coconut oil from the market and had also sealed the warehouse of N-Joy at Grandpass yesterday.
State Minister of Consumer Protection Lasantha Alagiyawanna assured that a fool-proof mechanism will ensure the quality of all imported goods to the country within the next two years.
The CAA has already taken legal action against the company and the case will be taken up at the Maligakanda Magistrate Court on next Tuesday.
The coconut oil adulteration scandal was sparked in early March when the Health Ministry detected 183,000 kg of imported coconut oil containing very high levels of aflatoxin. It was alleged that the Sri Lanka Customs had released the consignments to the importers; however, Customs said that they had only released the coconut oil to the stores of the importers.
The Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI) was compelled to test the oil again after which it was confirmed that oil imported by Ali Brothers, Edirisinghe Edible Oils and Katana Refineries contain high aflatoxin levels.
N-Joy is produced and marketed by Adamjee Lukmanjee and Sons Ltd. It is certified by the SLSI with the standard for coconut oil, SLS32. The company’s manufacturing plant located in Pannala is an ‘AA’ grade BRC (British Retail Consortium)-certified facility.
Admitting the legal loopholes and procedural gaps which has led to various food adulteration scandals from time-to-time, State Minister Alagiyawanna underlined the importance of giving more teeth to the law to sufficiently follow up those issues and to prevent their recurrence.
“This incident has acted as an eye-opener for the Government and the public, as it propelled the Government to identify and rectify the existing legal and procedural loopholes and the public to be extra careful about the quality of the food products they consume daily. We assure to take stringent action against the offenders,” Alagiyawanna said.
Coconut oil is the most widely used vegetable oil in Sri Lanka. According to Central Bank statistics 2019, Sri Lanka produced around 44,648 metric tons of coconut oil mainly for domestic consumption. The annual requirement of coconut oil for domestic and industrial purposes is about 180,000 metric tons (CDA statistics) and has to be imported to meet the demand. The coconut oil that is imported to Sri Lanka come as crude or unrefined oil due to lower price and import tariffs.
On 12 April, Sri Lanka Customs commenced the process of re-exporting a consignments of crude coconut oil found to be containing the carcinogen aflatoxin.