So people are freaking out about milk powder. There are two underlying agendas here, on top of some actual science. Ministers like Yapa Abeywardene and Champika Ranawaka want people to drink more natural milk (cow and human breast) and milk companies like Fonterra want to sell more powdered milk. Behind this all is that Sri Lankan consumers want to buy both. The actual science is that certain batches of wholesale milk powder may have been tainted with botulism causing bacteria (really scary), but that none of those batches were meant for SL. The other concern is that there is a chemical called DCD in milk, which A) it seems there isn’t and B) is less scary cause there are little or no ill effects from that.
I spoke to someone at Fonterra and did some reading on the milk problems and here’s what I could figure out. tl;dr, Sri Lankan powdered milk products seem to be safe and this has blown out of proportion. Fonterra’s huge cock-up was related to botulism tainted whey, which doesn’t affect SL. The other issue (DCD) is blown out of prop.
The Two Scientific Issues
As mentioned, there are two scientific issues here.
1. Botulism Bacteria – this is really scary. Botulism basically slowly paralyzes you, eventually shutting down respiration.
Fonterra has reported that a corrupted pipe (or something) may have corrupted batches of whey that go into its wholesale business (ie, not direct to consumers), affecting 9 countries (not including Sri Lanka). Those products have been pulled but this is a serious problem. Again, however, it doesn’t affect Sri Lanka or direct to market brands like Anchor.
2. DCD – DCD is a non-toxic chemical added to fertilizer. It won’t kill or harm you. They’ve been voluntarily phasing it out. A local testing body ITI says they’ve detected traces in Sri Lankan milk powder, but that organization doesn’t really have the equipment to properly test. Independent testers haven’t found.
The Political Issues
Underlying these actual issues are the statements from Yapa and Ranawaka, ongoing, that Sri Lankans should drink local milk, from local mothers when they’re kids and local cows as they’re older. I suppose that’s fine, but it need not be government policy, people can decide in the market whether they want powdered milk or not.
Then the other agenda is that Fonterra wants to make more money. While I think they’re getting unfairly thrashed on the DCD issue, I do think the botulism thing is pretty scary, even if it doesn’t affect Sri Lanka.
Of course, this remains a complicated issue and now there are so many people taking scientific embers and turning them into political flames that this is just a right royal mess. People in the government are using actual health concerns to push their long-running fight against imported milk powder. Meanwhile a not-too sympathetic milk company finds itself getting unfairly thrashed a lot when it should probably get thrashed a little. These nuances are lost and the public is just generally confused.