The government has not disclosed the names of the brands that have high levels of lead in their powdered milk products. Parents and consumer rights campaigners have expressed concern about the government’s silence. Earlier, hazardous levels of lead were discovered in the powdered milk products of five companies.
Tests initiated by Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) found the presence of lead in five of out of the 15 powdered milks now being imported by different companies.
“I buy PediaSure milk powder for my baby regularly. But if it contains harmful substances, we have every right to know about it,” said Munni Khair, the mother of a five year old.
An official from Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) said they are not willing to disclose the name as more tests from internationally accredited labs are still pending.
“If those reports find existence of lead on levels that is injurious to health, we will not only disclose their names, but also ask the companies to withdraw their products from the market,” he said. He also stated that they will take legal actions against the companies.
Earlier, Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission did tests on 30 milk powder products from local markets and found presence of lead at hazardous levels in the milk products produced by five companies, confirmed the BSAF official.
Meanwhile, president of Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB) Ghulam Rahman demanded the government to take immediate steps to stop the sale of milk powder from the accused companies.
“The government should take action against the companies and ban their imports,” he said.
If there is evidence that a child has been affected by the lead contamination, the company held responsible should compensate the affected,” he added.
What the importers are saying
A leading milk powder importing company has requested the government to develop its own expertise by training people to test such products.
“Importers should not be allowed to bring products from any source they want. We need monitoring and the use of internationally accredited machines in our labs,” said the managing director of New Zealand Dairy Products Bangladesh Ltd Md. Shamsul Alam Mallick.
“Companies like us, who import from Australia or New Zealand can only bring products after their (exporting country) government provides clearance after testing the samples and certifying them. When our tests find such results, it means we are challenging those reports as well,” he said.
“For public safety we demand that monitoring to continue in our markets, but we also have to develop our own resources,” he added.
The monthly demand for powdered milk is over 5,000 tons, over 80% of which comes from New Zealand, and rest from Australia, Denmark, Ireland and other European countries.
What the government is doing
In a recent development, the BFSA has formed a 10 member committee led by Mahbub Kabir to re-test the presence of lead in imported milk powder.
“We are now working to find internationally accredited labs for re-testing the samples. We will collect samples from all 15 brands again and send them to two international labs. At the same time, the samples will also be tested in our government labs again,” said Mahbub.
Meanwhile, a top BFSA official confirmed that they will soon ask all customs stations to send complete examination reports of imported products to increase monitoring.
“The customs stations usually keep the examination reports blank creating a scope for irregularities. We are now drafting a letter which will be sent to all customs stations asking them to properly fill up the examination forms. Disclosing the information will be mandatory, and a copy will have to be sent to the BFSA. This will help us act more strictly to ensure food safety for consumers” he said.