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Toxic coconut oil scare trigger public wave of fear over aflatoxins in foodstuffs

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People now wary of buying certain products

By Suresh Perera

In the backdrop of a top official of Sri Lanka’s key standards body coming under heavy flak over her controversial claim that several other consumer commodities also contain toxic substances, public apprehension has shifted to many other products in the market following a wave of fear triggered over cancer-causing free radicals in foodstuffs, industry players said.

The Trade Ministry has already initiated a disciplinary inquiry into the assertion by Dr. Siddhika Senaratne, the Director-General of the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), that aflatoxins are also found in certain other food items sold to the public.

Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi found on agricultural crops.

As the SLSI scientist’s remarks during a television talk show ignited an uproar following the seizure of imported stocks of contaminated coconut oil, industry officials said that customers are now wary of purchasing certain food products as the social media, rightly or wrongly, painted a frightening picture, they said.

A committee will be appointed to examine Dr. Senaratne’s statement to ascertain the validity or otherwise of her claim of the presence of aflatoxins in some food products in the marketplace, authoritative sources said.

Though the Director-General didn’t identify any of the “toxic products” she claimed were being sold to consumers, her statement unleashed a cycle of fear and uncertainty as consumers, influenced largely by social media reports and hearsay, viewed many brands with suspicion, the sources noted.

However, there has been no credible scientific evidence so far to prove that products identified on social media contain carcinogenic properties, they said.

Dr. Senaratne’s contention was that identifying products with toxic substances could lead to the collapse of some local industries. The Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has been informed to take up the issue with the relevant manufacturers for remedial action, she said.

It is no secret that many mills use copra with fungus to extract coconut oil. The perishable copra is dried outdoors but there is no proper cleaning of the fungi, which are common under tropical and sub-tropical conditions, before the oil is extracted, industry officials said.

Has it been established whether the shiny wax coating used on apples as an oxygen barrier to preserve freshness, particularly in consignments imported from China, belong to the safe food grade material?, they asked.

In the case of apples imported to Sri Lanka from the USA, the whole process of orchard to point of landing take many weeks. It is true that fruits are stored in cold rooms to preserve quality and slow the aging process by regulating oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. However, the question arises whether there are accredited processes to monitor the agro chemical and other toxic levels in imported apples and other varieties of fruits before permitting the stocks to be released to the local market, they noted.

Hoppers are a staple of Sri Lankan cuisine, but it’s common knowledge that many wayside eateries introduce plaster of paris (a quick-setting gypsum plaster consisting of a fine white powder known as calcium sulfate hemihydrate) to the batter to keep them fresh and crispy, the officials asserted.

“This is because customers insist on freshly baked hoppers and as a result, those that have gone flat cannot be sold”, they said.

Cleanliness of eateries is being monitored to some extent, but are there any quality checks for toxicity on the food served to customers?, they queried.

After the contaminated coconut oil scandal surfaced, people are reluctant to even buy traditional oil-based sweetmeats from the marketplace, they further said.

Unlike earlier years, there is a slump in sweetmeat sales, a supermarket official said. “Customers are wary about toxic coconut oil in the market”.

 

 



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President orders probe into notification issued by Department of Immigration and Emigration

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It has been reported that President Wickremesinghe ordered an investigation into the notification issued by the Department of Immigration and Emigration requesting all  Russian and Ukrainian tourists to leave the country within 14 days.

According to the President’s Media Division (PMD), the relevant notification was issued without prior approval from the Cabinet of Ministers.

The decision had reportedly been taken as certain foreign tourists are running illegal businesses in the country.

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Contentious Chinese research vessel docks in Maldives

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Xiang Yang Hong 03 has previously visited Indian Ocean on several other occasions

A contentious Chinese research ship reached the Maldives on Thursday in the latest sign of the archipelago’s diplomatic reorientation towards Beijing and away from its traditional benefactor India.

Local residents said they had spotted China’s Xiang Yang Hong 3 at the Thilafushi industrial port near the capital Male.The 100-metre-long (328-foot) vessel was at an anchorage near Male on Thursday evening, according to the website Marinetraffic.

The Maldives’ pro-Beijing government said earlier the vessel was docking for a port call to rotate crew and take on supplies, on the condition that it would not conduct “research” while in its territorial waters.

Media reports in India had suggested that the vessel was conducting surveillance for Beijing.

India is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, which are strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.Relations between Male and New Delhi have chilled since pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu won elections last year.

Muizzu has asked India to withdraw 89 security personnel based in the Maldives to operate reconnaissance aircraft by March 15.But the president has also insisted he does not want to upend ties with New Delhi by replacing Indian troops with Chinese forces.

Sri Lanka refused entry to Xiang Yang Hong 3 after two other port calls from Chinese vessels since 2022 raised objections from India.That included the ship Yuan Wang 5, which specializes in spacecraft tracking and which New Delhi described as a spy ship. (AFP)

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MP Harsha in Australia as “Special visitor”

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Harsha de Silva

Opposition MP and Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) Harsha de Silva is currently in Australia as a special visitor.

Taking to ‘X’, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP said he had embarked on a nine-day visit on an invitation extended by the Government of Australia.

“My engagements with policymakers, academics, scientists and investment managers began in Melbourne and will continue in Adelaide and then public officials and politicians in Canberra,” he added.

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