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Customs to probe coconut oil allegation

  • Coconut oil stocks containing aflatoxins in market

 

Sri Lanka Customs is to investigate the coconut oil stocks containing aflatoxins which are harmful to the human body and has informed the two companies that imported these oil stocks to re-export them.

“We ordered (the companies) to re-export these oil stocks. Until then, the stocks will be in the warehouses of the two said companies. However, we have since started an investigation regarding the allegation that these oil stocks containing aflatoxins are being released to the consumer market,” Director General (DG) of Customs G.D. Chandra Ekanayake said, speaking to The Morning.

When inquired from Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) Chairman Maj. Gen. (Retd.) D.M.S. Dissanayaka as to whether the CAA too would launch an investigation into the said oil stocks, he said that there is no need to launch such an investigation.

“The Customs DG already confirmed that the coconut oil stocks have not been released to the consumer market,” he claimed.

However, the CAA conducts random checks on coconut oil in the market and tests them in CAA laboratories, he added.

Meanwhile, speaking to The Morning, Ministry of Health Food Safety Unit Director Dr. Thilak Siriwardana said that all food items imported for business purposes and categorised as having a high and medium risk level would be tested.

“Every food item in the high-risk category would be tested by the Food Safety Unit at all times, and if it is not under the relevant condition, we would advise the Customs to re-export the stocks,” Dr. Siriwardana said.

According to Dr. Siriwardana, the alleged oil stocks received in early March contained aflatoxins and the Unit had therefore ordered the Customs to re-export them. He added that according to the combined system, health officials would also be able to know if the stocks were re-exported or not.

Aflatoxins lead to acute poisoning that can be life-threatening, usually by causing damage to the liver.

“We receive most of the coconut oil stocks as crude oil, and we need to purify them before using. Some believe that the aflatoxins level would be low when it is purified. But our Unit will not allow any crude oil stocks containing aflatoxins to come into the country. I think we have rejected at least 50 to 60 such oil tanks this year,” Dr. Siriwardana added.

He further said these coconut oil stocks are mostly imported from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia and that some businessmen import coconut oil that contains aflatoxins due to the low price.

Meanwhile, Minister of Plantations Dr. Ramesh Pathirana stated in Parliament that immediate steps will be taken to stop felling coconut trees and that accordingly, the coconut tree will be included in the Felling of Trees (Control) Act.