by Suresh Perera
A top executive in Sri Lanka’s dairy business lashed out at multinational companies, which, he asserted were "conspiring to destroy the local milk industry to pave the way for foreigners to take over and monopolize this vital trade".
"The day won’t be far away when these elements with vested interests might even claim there are traces of urea in local milk or the industry is under threat from Mad Cow or some other dreaded disease", says Maliban Group’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), L.akshman Weerasuriya.
The motive behind these machinations is to strangle the dairy industry and spread their monopolistic tentacles, he claimed. "This is clear from what we witness now".
"We should be wary of attempts by multinationals to undermine a key industry so close to Sri Lankan hearts", Weerasuriya told a news conference at the Maliban Milk Foods complex at Ratmalana last week.
"It is not only milk powder, but even consumer commodity markets such as noodles, soap and toothpaste that are being monopolized by multinations", he said. "They call the tune".
The CEO was also bitterly critical of a section of the media, which he accused of "misrepresenting facts and distorting the true picture" in relation to, what he described as "unfounded claims of Dicyandiamide (DCD) in Maliban Non Fat milk powder".
"We will be sending a Letter of Demand seeking Rs. 500 million in damages", he declared, displaying front page news reports in two newspapers. "We give them revenue by way of advertising and they, in turn, publish baseless stories to tarnish our image".
There are millions of dollars being offered by "interested parties" to gradually cripple the local milk industry, he charged. "Perhaps, a part of this funding also goes to plant half-baked stories in the media".
Those responsible for publishing such "grossly distorted news stories" are either, wittingly or unwittingly, helping "foreign conspirators" to achieve their sinister objective, Weerasuriya said.
When pointed out that it was the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI), which reported DCD contamination in Maliban Non Fat milk powder following a scientific analysis, he replied, "No way. We totally reject these baseless findings. There would have been a mix up, either by accident or design, in the samples tested".
"We have conclusively established through advanced laboratory testing that our products are free of DCD and hence, absolutely safe for consumption", the CEO assured. "A sample sent to a laboratory in Singapore also proved negative".
He said that 16 samples drawn from the marketplace had been placed in separate containers marked A. B. C. and so forth for DCD testing by the ITI. Akin to a wrong blood or cholesterol report being handed over to a patient by a hospital, there could have been a similar mix up here also.
Asked whether the samples could have been deliberately switched during the ITI testing stage, he replied "Yes, that’s possible. Otherwise, how come they claim only Maliban Non Fat contains DCD when the full cream is also imported from Australia?"
All the unsubstantiated claims are a part of the conspiracy, Weerasuriya continued. "If there is scientific evidence of strains of this agricultural chemical in our milk food, we will offer Rs. 10 million in cash within 24 hours".
The CEO reiterated that the Australian dairy industry had not used DCD for the past 100 years. There is no evidence to suggest that this chemical had been used even in the past 25 years. The Australian government has categorically assured that its milk food is free of DCD and 100% safe for consumption.
"The Director General of Health Services (DGHS), Dr. Palitha Maheepala had instructed us in writing to withdraw a certain batch of milk food ‘Maliban had imported from New Zealand’. How can we do this when for the past 21 years we have brought down stocks only from Australia? This shows the callous indifference and inefficiency in dealing with this crucial issue, he noted.
He said that a copy of this letter addressed to Maliban had been leaked out of the DHGS office, photocopied and given to grocery stores in various parts of the country to scare customers. "One of our sales people caught a person in a vehicle distributing copies of this letter in Galle. The vehicle number and the suspect’s mobile number were obtained and the matter has been referred to the CID".
"There is an organized campaign against Maliban milk food as we have unearthed information of individuals being planted to discourage customers from buying our products", he said. "At a grocery store, my sister was also told that Maliban is contaminated, but when she challenged it, the woman who confronted her fled".
The bulk 75% of milk imports come from New Zealand under different brand names, while the balance 25% is procured from Australia. This translates into a total 4,500 metric tons (MT) of imports per month. Of this, Maliban supplies 1,600 MT from Australia, while 3,400 MT come from New Zealand. The local production is 600 MT.
"The difference is that we sell milk food and remain in Sri Lanka, unlike CEOs of multinational companies who depart after a three-year stint with a part of the profits", Weerasuriya stressed. "If we find our imports are contaminated, the consignments wonbe taken beyond the gate, but packed off to Australia again".
"We don’t have a single foreigner amongst our 3,000 employees at Maliban", he noted. "As a second generation company which emerged from humble beginnings, we maintain a profit margin of less than 5% on the sale of products in keeping with the vision of our founder".
"The funds we channel towards our CSR initiative is substantial", he underscored. "We have done enormous work for religious and social development in the country".
We stand by our findings on DCD — ITI Director
The Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) assumes full responsibility for the scientific analysis of DCD, Dr. Sirimal Premakumara, the Director of this key government institution said on Friday.
Dismissing suggestions that the samples tested had been "mixed up" or "switched", he said that an internationally accepted methodology was adopted for the analysis and the ITI stands by its findings.
He said the samples were drawn directly from the marketplace and the discovery of DCD contamination related exclusively to the relevant batches of imported milk food scientifically analyzed.
"Therefore, we cannot generalize on imported milk powder brands as a whole as only a particular stock was tested", the ITI chief explained.
Responding to Maliban’s query on how DCD was purportedly discovered only in Non Fat milk powder when full cream stocks were also procured from the same Australian source, Dr. Premakumara replied, "Our findings are known. It is their (Maliban’s) responsibility to ascertain the position relating to their imported consignments".
"I am prepared to do a similar analysis on the samples we collected in the presence of Maliban officials, if there is a need", he noted. (SP)