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Contamination fears propel Lanka Sathosa to recall Chinese-made canned fish stocks

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After procurement from Colombo port for Rs. 50mn

by Suresh Perera

A substantial stock of “confiscated” canned fish Lanka Sathosa procured from the Colombo port at a cost of around Rs. 50 million has been recalled from the market following public complaints that the Chinese-manufactured products were unfit for human consumption.

The five 20-foot container loads of 425g ‘Kitchen King’ Mackerel canned fish of the Scomber japonicus species, which were lying in the Colombo port as “abandoned cargo” after forfeiture by the Customs in October last year, was purchased by Lanka Sathosa recently to be sold at a concessionary price through its chain of supermarkets.

“We have now withdrawn the whole stock from our supermarket shelves as there were customer complaints that the canned fish was not fit for consumption”, says Lanka Sathosa Chairman, Rear Admiral (Retd) Ananda Peiris.

The products were injected into the market after clearance by the Food Control Unit of the Health Ministry following quality testing by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), he said.

“As there’s a shortage of canned fish in the marketplace, we promptly distributed the stocks to our supermarkets island-wide to be sold at Rs. 290 each. We have now asked the outlets not to sell them to customers because of the quality issue that has emerged”, the Chairman noted.

“We have no option now other than to return the consignment and seek a refund from the Ports Authority”, he said.

Onions, potatoes, lentils and other food commodities, which are either confiscated by the Customs or remain uncleared by importers, are generally procured by Lanka Sathosa to be sold at concessionary prices to customers, Peiris explained.

“In terms of a Cabinet decision, the consignments are auctioned only if we don’t procure them”.

The stock of canned fish had been forfeited as the owner had not cleared it for three months, he said.

“Lanka Sathosa appears to have opened a can of worms as the 9,200 packs of canned fish had arrived aboard a vessel, which sailed into Colombo on October 29 last year, a source knowledgeable of the operation, said.

Listing out the relevant reference and batch numbers of the consignments, the source said the Chinese products were manufactured on 09/10/2020 with a 09/10/2023 ‘expiry date’.

This means the stocks had been in the Colombo port for the past nine months, and had turned rancid despite a 2023 ‘expiry date’, the source asserted.

Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) officers had raided the Lanka Sathosa outlet at Moneragala following complaints that canned fish was being hoarded.

“We found stocks in storage, but was told by officers there that instructions were received to withhold the sale of the ‘Kitchen King’ products until they were re-labeled”, CAA’s Executive Director, Thushan Gunawardena said.

As the importer was not in favor of Lanka Sathosa marketing the products under its original brand name, a sticker was affixed to obscure it, Peiris clarified.

Under Section 10 of the Consumer Protection Act, re-labeling a product constitutes an offence, Gunawardena pointed out.

Acting on a complaint, public health inspectors have taken a sample of the canned fish from the Mawanella outlet for testing, the Lanka Sathosa chief further said.

Responding to questions raised by the CAA, the SLSI said its officers had collected samples from the five containers following requests by the Ports Authority and Lanka Sathosa.

As the original importer had not submitted any documents to the SLSI so far, the need for sample collection didn’t arise, it said.

The CAA has further queried whether the SLSI was aware of the purpose the test results were required at the time samples were received.

The SLSI has clamped down on the import of substandard canned fish with an intolerable level of arsenic, particularly from manufacturers in China.

In a news report headlined “SLSI cracks the whip on substandard Chinese canned fish imports”, The Sunday Island of March 21, 2021 quoted the institution’s Director-General, Dr. Siddhika Senaratne as saying that fish harvested for canning has a high arsenic content as the sea in China is heavily polluted and dirty due to lax environmental laws.

“It is true that there is a scarcity of canned fish in the market because supply cannot meet the demand. However, this does not mean we should allow our people to be poisoned through arsenic-laden imports”, she was quoted saying in the news report.

With the SLSI stipulating a maximum arsenic tolerance standard of 1.0 milligram per kilogram of fish, a filtering mechanism is now in place to shut out substandard imports, she assured at the time.

Asked whether the consignment of Chinese canned fish procured by Lanka Sathosa was earlier detained due to its high arsenic content, Dr. Senaratne declined comment saying she’s “not allowed to talk to the media”.

“The DG wouldn’t want to be dragged into another controversy”, an official remarked, referring to the furore over her claim of toxins in foodstuffs, which she, however, declined to identify at the time.

At a time canned fish imports from China have been off the shelves since SLSI’s rigid monitoring of tolerable arsenic levels began, industry players expressed consternation on how a stock, which had been lying in the Colombo port for months, was suddenly given the nod for procurement by Lanka Sathosa.

With the scarcity of canned fish products in the market pushing up demand, will an importer abandon his consignments unless there was something rotten somewhere?, they asked.

“It is too far-fetched to imagine that they got the documentation wrong as these importers are seasoned campaigners in the game”.

It is apparent that Lanka Sathosa had not done its homework before jumping at the idea of procuring the consignment because Chinese-made canned fish had remained virtually out of bounds for many months because of fears of contamination, they said.

Importers didn’t want to risk their investments as a high arsenic level meant the consignments were either destroyed or ordered to be re-exported, they added.

“That’s why local products now dominate the market with a brand from Thailand also no longer available”.

 

 



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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE

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Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm

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By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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