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Investigation launched over Sri Lanka Standards DG’s aflatoxins comments: Keheliya

SLSI Director General Dr Siddhika Senaratne – Image credit: slsi.lk

ECONOMYNEXT – An investigation has been launched over a controversial statement attributed to Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI) Director General Dr Siddhika Senaratne on food items that allegedly contain aflatoxins, co-cabinet spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.

Speaking to reporters this morning, the minister said the government does not approve Senaratne’s remark that exposing local businesses whose products are found to contain the toxin could lead to their collapse.

Following discussions with SLSI officials, Rambukwella said, the government will take measures to address the issue.

In an interview that aired on the privately owned Hiru TV last weekend, Senaratne said several food items have been found to contain the carcinogenic substance but divulging further details could lead to the collapse of local businesses.

“Even if you believe the media has a right to know about it, it is our duty to protect local businesses. What we do instead is inform the Consumer Affairs Authority. We engage in discussions and try to resolve any issues,” she said.

Senaratne’s comments were met with widespread criticism, coming as it did on the back of a controversy surrounding six consignments of coconut oil that allegedly contained aflatoxin.

Last week, Sri Lanka Customs opened an investigation to determine whether any coconut oil contaminated with high levels of aflatoxin has been released to the market.

“Customs is looking to find the perpetrators and, once the reports are out, we will take legal action against them,” co-cabinet spokesman Minister Ramesh Pathirana told reporters at the weekly cabinet press briefing on March 30.

On Friday, April 02, some 3000kg of dhal (split lentils) containing fungi that can produce aflatoxin was found in a cooperative shop in Weligama, a Weligama Public Health Inspector (PHI) said.

Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops such as maize (corn), peanuts, cottonseed, and tree nuts. The main fungi that produce aflatoxins are Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, which are abundant in warm and humid regions of the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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In her interview, Dr Senaratne claimed that the SLSI has quietly taken action against businesses that import contaminated food items. Numerous food items including canned fish have been re-exported in the past after they were found to have contained harmful substances, she said.

Aflatoxins are originated from mould (a growth of minute fungi), she further said, and in the case of coconut oil, this mould can be found in some dried coconut kernels (copra). The toxin may be found in locally produced coconut oil too if copra with mould is used in production, she said. (Colombo/April06/2021)

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