One of the positive outcomes of the Maggi-MSG row In India has been the initiating of Indian authorities and more specifically state regulators into action. It is widely reported that state regulators are now testing samples of various products to ascertain if they contain the ingredients as per the labeling.
“In Sri Lanka you find a public apathy on consumerism, the whole issue has been compounded by the dearth of scientific research, follow through and lack of stricter regulations on the part of the authorities,” said Ajith de Alwis, Professor of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Moratuwa. “We always seem to know what’s going on outside the country, but rarely look at what our products have or what our regulations say.”
Professor de Alwis cites that sporadic raids have been to-date one of the most haphazard ways to go about educating a consumer. “There has to be an overhaul of the system with a sense of responsibility on the part of the authorities,” he says. “Consumers here need an independent authority that they can trust and rely on for information.”
He commented on a move by the Health Department of the Colombo Municipal Council to award ratings to eateries and restaurants recommending that such a mechanism should be made mandatory. “The immediate outcome is simple; consumer will look for those ratings and that information.”
“There is a disconnect between consumers and corporations which has been complicated by the many smokescreens,” says Dr. Damayanthi Perera, a nutrition and dietetics specialist.
She added that while consumers are awakening to the dangers of ultra processed foods, consumer activism is tangibly absent. According to her the issue at present in Sri Lanka is two fold; the country lacks qualified researchers who have the will to tell the truth whilst consumers are left in the dark when it comes to reading and understanding food labels.”
She lamented that fact that whilst there are regulations governing the use of food enhancers and a food act, the problem lies with implementation.
“What we need is a consumer lobby comprised of people who are truly working in the best interest of the consumers at large to take on the Trans and multinational companies,” she urges. “This small group of people will also need the help of media and legal expertise to bring about change on a policy level.”
Dr Azeez M Mubarak the former Director and CEO at the Industrial Technology Institute also commented on the lack of researchers in the Research and Development Field adding that it would take a complete reform of the whole university culture to popularize research.
He said that Sri Lanka lacks the critical mass of research personnel for a fully fledged R&D cultureand that universities should make an attempt to produce quality researchers who would be absorbed into the workforce by the government and private sector.
“In an era of unparalleled accelerated change coupled with massive population, the ability to provide adequate, safe and nutritious food sustainably and equitably will be a huge cause for concern,” said Dr. Muditha Senarath-Yapa who heads the Research unit at John Keells.
He added that food technology has evolved to meet the needs emanating from food security. “Consumers crave good food, different tastes and conveniences, which has prompted innovation on the part of the food companies to enhance foods for longer shelf life.”
According to him, Sri Lanka lacks both the foundation for good research, regulation as well as follow-through.