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‘Harmful’ fertiliser import: Fresh samples to be submitted

17 Sep 2021

  • Chinese company’s local agent claims new samples arriving
  • Says SLSI-nominated Chinese lab cleared initial ‘rejected’ samples
BY Buddhika Samaraweera Following reports that the mandatory tests carried out by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), the National Plant Quarantine Service (NPQS), and the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board (SLAEB) on samples of organic fertiliser made in China have failed, the local agent of said Chinese manufacturing company has stated that another set of samples are to be given to the SLSI, NPQS, and the SLAEB in the coming days. Recently, it was reported that a tender has been awarded to import 99,000 metric tonnes (MT) of organic fertiliser made in China, and that its value is approximately $ 63 million. It was also reported that the mandatory tests carried out by the SLSI, the NPQS, and the SLAEB on its samples have failed. According to the testing agencies, the stock of fertiliser could contain harmful micro-organisms, pathogens, and even diseases harmful to the soil, plants, and humans. A letter sent to the Fertiliser Secretariat by the NPQS on the test results of the samples, which was seen by The Morning, states that both fertiliser samples they received contain harmful bacteria. According to the letter, two samples of solid organic fertiliser samples bearing numbers 388 and 389 have been referred to the NPQS by the National Fertiliser Secretariat on 31 August 2021. The samples have been subjected to standard microbiological tests to find out whether they are contaminated with culturable micro-organisms. Accordingly, the letter sent by the NPQS read: “Sample No. 388 was found to be highly contaminated with gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. Preliminary studies revealed the bacteria to be Bacillus spp and Erwinia spp, which can be pathogenic to plants. Similarly, sample No. 389 was found to be contaminated with gram positive bacteria, which is also a Bacillus spp.” Therefore, the samples submitted for laboratory investigation are not sterilised, the NPQS concluded in the letter. An official of the local agent of said Chinese company told The Morning that another set of samples will arrive in the country, and that they would be given to the SLSI, the NPQS, and the SLAEB. The official, speaking to The Morning, also said that a laboratory in China, nominated by the SLSI, had tested samples of these fertilisers but had not found any harmful components in them. He said that they (the SLSI-nominated laboratory) had studied the process of manufacturing the fertiliser (including the sterilisation process) at length before conducting the relevant test. Speaking further, he claimed that the fertiliser samples were received in Sri Lanka on 21 August, but were tested by the SLSI on 8 September. Against that backdrop, he alleged that if the samples were exposed to the environment during that time, their condition could change. “We don’t know what happened between 21 August and 8 September. Their condition can change through exposure to the environment,” he noted. When queried as to whether the SLSI, the NPQS, and the SLAEB have given them the test result reports, he said that no report has been received so far. However, one of the buyers of the fertiliser stock, the Ceylon Fertiliser Company Ltd. has, in a letter, informed the Chinese manufacturer that tests carried out by the SLSI have found harmful bacteria in the samples, he added. National People’s Power (NPP) Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath recently claimed that there was a plan to import urea mixed with Chinese urban waste under the pretext of importing organic fertiliser required for farmers. However, in response to the allegations made by Herath, the Government claimed that the former’s allegation is completely false and that there is no such plan at all. A proposal to ban the use and importation of chemical fertilisers and agrochemicals such as pesticides and herbicides/weedicides was submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers by President Rajapaksa, and the same was granted approval, following which the relevant gazette notification was issued in May 2021. Multiple attempts to contact SLSI Director General Dr. Siddhika G. Senaratne proved futile.

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