Colombo Additional Magistrate Manjula Ratnayake has issued summons to three major companies and six directors of them to appear before court on November 18 in connection with the production and distribution of Samaposha, Yahaposha, and Lakposha for children that contain more aflatoxin than the amount prescribed, making them unfit for human consumption.
Legal measures have been taken with the court’s powers regarding public health. Yahposha is manufactured and distributed by two companies owned by the Maliban Group. Samaposha belongs to the Ceylon Biscuit Company commonly known as ‘Munchee’. These companies were ordered to present facts about these products.
Gothatuwa Public Health Inspector P. A. S. Kasun took legal action last week in response to reports from the Government Analyst’s Department. The hearing of this case took place on the 21st and summons was issued. According to the Food Act, public health inspectors have the power to prosecute violations found in their area. Therefore, the public health inspector has done his duty.
As PHIs are paid with people’s tax money, citizens expect them to raise awareness about the quality of food and to implement the law. Publicizing the aflatoxin issue is a duty of the Public Health Inspector’s Association.
However, this ‘fulfilment of duty’ does not sit well with this country’s rulers, who prefer to mislead people saying that there is no problem.
Meanwhile, health minister Keheliya Rambukwella made a comment in parliament on September 21 threatening those who exposed this news.
So far, in addition to public health inspectors, several media organizations have published news on the excess aflatoxin in food. According to those news reports, the data published by the Public Health Inspectors Association have been confirmed. However, the health minister made false statements in parliament and threatened those who spread this information in the country.
At a time when Sri Lanka face a serious nutrition crisis, providing Triposha to free of charge to children can be identified as an essential service. Even products sold under brands like Samaposha and Yahaposha have become essential food items now. So quality is very important when selling these products.
Generally, when these types of food are sold, the standard limits for each chemical ingredient are tested. If a chemical exceeds that limit by even a little, the product is considered substandard. The released reports found that the chemical aflatoxin has exceeded the limit in Thriposha.
We need to understand something here. The above reports detected that aflatoxin is only slightly above the standard limit. That means that even though the limit has been exceeded, they haven’t surpassed it by very large amount. Nevertheless, reports clearly confirm that these products are ‘substandard’.
In this situation, we must point out that the media should clearly explain the content of such reports and ensure that what they publish do not unnecessarily scare people. For example, the products that are the subject of these reports do not kill you if you consume them. There’s little likelihood that you will get cancer if you consume them. We even pick up bits of food that fall on the floor and eat them. This is a scientific matter of quality. There is no need to unnecessarily fear these products after verifying the relevant data regarding these standards.
It was amid all this that the health minister spoke in parliament threatening trade union leaders. His threat is completely unacceptable.
He said about aflatoxin: “A problem has arisen due to the lack of maize. Within two weeks of being transported by sea, they place a small black dot. That too is only 20 percent at the international level. We have put thirty for more safety.”
He further said: “I say in this parliament with responsibility that it is a blatant lie because I advised the Secretary this morning and at 11 pm last night to take legal action against those involved in this matter. [They] act in a disgraceful manner, spreading fear in society saying that it’s a carcinogen. The Establishment Code states that if you make such a statement, you need permission from the Secretary. I clearly state that, from this moment, I hope to work in accordance with it.”
Having threatened to take legal action this way, he further said: “But I’m no longer saying that this problem does not exist.”
What does he mean by that? ‘Yes, there is a problem, but people cannot speak about it, and those who do will face trouble?’
What he does is keeping people in the dark about the real situation. He went on to say something completely unscientific and unsuitable for a health minister to say regarding sample testing.
He had said that “one gram out of a tonne is tested and [the results are] published in newspapers.”
Who made such an unscientific fool the health minister? Is there no one else for this position? Shouldn’t he act responsibly at this time?
“Everyone under three years of age should be given those that contain less than one part per billion. Less than thirty parts per billion for those older than three. We responded as such to a question raised by a journalist,” said Mr. Upul Rohana of the Public Health Inspectors Association.
Accordingly, the minister’s statements such as “the world standard is 20%, but here we maintain a higher standard of 30%” are wrong.
“The minister has said that I made a false statement. I have not made false statement at all. We are saying that when giving food that children and pregnant mothers are sensitive to, it should be done in the right way.” he added.
Apart from the Thriposha story, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella drew attention to media reports on the health crisis. He spoke of acting against the officials who spoke to the media. In addition, he said that he is trying to take measures against the reporting of Sri Lanka’s medicine crisis and health issues by the media.
His approach is the same as that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa took prior to the people’s protest movement. He suppresses the truth without telling people about the real crisis and its scale. Attempts to repress those who speak the truth. Creates a deceptive image in front of society. Makes statements like, “There maybe a few problems but in general, the situation is good.” Paints the world as a rose garden, suppressing the real crises on the ground. Controls people as their troubles intensify by keeping them in the dark.
It was just several days ago that Namal Rajapaksa said the words, “repression is the only solution.”
It’s evident from Keheliya Rambukwella’s speech behavior that, even after a mass uprising, these immoral rulers have not changed.