UN agencies offer to help govt with testing
The government finally decided to test abroad the level of melamine contamination in only eight of the powdered milk brands out of over 50 of them, leaving parents of babies in grave confusion about the safeness of the rest.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI), the state agency responsible for testing the quality of food items, has been mum about which brands are safe, with its director general (DG) saying, the agency has no plan to publicise the safe brands within a few days.
Offering support for authentic tests of the samples sent abroad, UN agencies Fao, WHO and Unicef advised the authorities yesterday to remove all melamine contaminated milk products from the shelves of markets as soon as the tests confirm the unsafe levels of contamination.
Panic stricken parents and different social organisations yesterday continued to demand an active role of the health ministry in dealing with the issue, opposing the key role currently being played by the commerce ministry.
The Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) yesterday demanded immediate testing of the remaining brands of milk powder.
Asking consumers to boycott the eight brands, CAB leaders also urged the government to keep sale of the eight brands suspended until credible results are in hands.
Save the Environment Movement (SEM) yesterday urged the government to take punitive actions against companies that imported melamine tainted powder milk.
Addressing a press conference, SEM leaders also demanded cancelling of licences of responsible companies, formulation of a consumer protection act, strengthening of BSTI, and testing of all imported food items before marketing.
“The government is trying to brush the matter under the rug by forming a probe committee by the ministry of commerce instead of health,” said SEM leader Syed Abul Maksud, adding that the government is trying to protect the interest of businesses instead of the people.
The chemistry department of Dhaka University (DU) found presence of melamine beyond tolerable level, testing samples of all the eight brands of powdered milk provided to them by BSTI.
But tests performed by BSTI and a private laboratory, Plasma Plus, found contamination only in one brand.
After DU reconfirmed its results, the government on Tuesday sent samples of the eight brands to Fao for retesting by foreign labs with international accreditation.
According to BSTI scientists, presence of up to .001mg (milligram) of melamine per gram of milk consumed is considered safe for children, and .0025mg per gram of milk for adults.
On October 16, the government advised consumers to refrain temporarily from consuming the eight brands of powdered milk.
“But there are a large number of milk powder brands on the market, especially the baby formulas. Now we’re in confusion about which one is safe as the government is saying nothing,” said Rifat Sultana of Uttara, an official of a private bank.
Asked why the government is not making any statement about the other brands, Health Adviser AMM Shwakat Ali said, “It’s the responsibility of BSTI, and they have already been told to do that.”
When his attention was drawn to the public confusion regarding which brands are safe, the adviser said, “BSTI should let people know which brands are not tainted with melamine.”
But when The Daily Star contacted BSTI DG Azmal Hossain, he said they have no plan to do that in a few days.
“We’re not doing that because our test results of the eight brands differed from that of the Dhaka University chemistry department,” he said.
Asked why they are not disclosing the test results of other brands, he said he doubts whether people will trust the results anymore.
When asked about the number of milk powder brands tested by them, the DG declined to disclose the number.
Of the eight brands the DU chemistry department found tainted, three — Yashili 1, Yashili 2, and Sweet Baby 2 — are infant formulas.
“Those three brands were in the pipeline for registration. And there are 46 other brands of registered infant formulas,” an official of the Institute of Public Health and Nutrition told The Daily Star.
Meanwhile, tests in Taiwan found minor doses of the industrial chemical melamine in milk powders produced in China by the European food giant Nestle, and those products are being withdrawn from the market, AP reported yesterday quoting Taiwan’s health minister.
Minister Yeh Ching-chuan said milk powders produced by Nestle in Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China were found to contain .3 to .85 ppm (parts per million) of melamine. Nestle is a Switzerland based company.
Expressing concerns regarding the implication of melamine contaminated milk products on infant and child nutrition and health, UN agencies Fao, WHO and Unicef yesterday said they are ready to support Bangladesh government for further testing of powdered milk samples by internationally certified laboratories.
In a joint statement yesterday, the agencies suggested immediate actions to ensure supply of safe dairy products.
Source: The Daily Star, October 23, 2008