Pol Thel - a food safety issue?


Coconut oil is the most widely produced vegetable oil in the country. It has hit the headlines due to aflatoxin contamination which has been a “health scare” and generally considered harmful.

by Victor Cherubim

Every so often some food issue is in the news in Sri Lanka. The Government is anxious to keep the cost of living on an even keel, and there is simultaneously a clamour by local  businesses  and manufacturers that imported food products are destroying their trade. We read about Sugar imports and recently the 13 containers of Coconut oil, alleged to be unhealthy, which had been allowed import into the country, causing more than price equilibrium, thus dominating the market. 

Coconut oil is the most widely produced vegetable oil in the country. It has hit the headlines due to aflatoxin contamination which has been a “health scare” and generally considered harmful. It is an important component of the daily diet added and used for frying and cooking food, particularly for frying kavvum, a  speciality during the impending “Aluth Auuruddha”. 

Some 180,000 metric tons of coconut oil is required for the market annually. 37,000 metric tons imported into Sri Lanka at a cost of Rs.10.5 billion “killing local industries and some say,the public''.  It is cheap and not of  quality. 

The other side of the equation is that some coconut oil produced in Sri Lanka has been found to be unsuitable for human consumption. They exceed the European Union maximum permissible limit for total aflatoxins (4ug/kg) which are known as carcinogens.

The Aflatoxins

The fungal growth or mould in the copra is the source of the aflatoxins.The main method of extraction as opposed to filtration, is a health issue.  The smoke cured copra processed mainly by large scale industrial mills which use power driven mechanical expellers may or may not  selectively extract the aflatoxins which  village level stone mills have performed over centuries. This is now  a food safety concern by the health authorities. 

Cost of living and the cost of health 

People all over the world have after COVID-19 a new set of values.

The Cost of living implies the general level of prices of goods and services which a common man can afford for his regular needs.

The Standard of living refers to the level of money and well being that people enjoy in a particular country. 

Cost of living means how expensive it is to survive in a place in the world in comparison to another.

Cost of living is linked to wages. Standard of living is linked to quality of life.

To give you an idea, the cost of living in the UK in 2020 was £2,249 per month, for a single person and £3,803 per month for a family of four. We may argue if a family of four can live comfortably on this sum. 

The impact of COVID-19 is without a doubt affecting more the poorer countries rather than affluent nations in different ways. Health is a serious concern for a small nation like Sri Lanka. People naturally are more concerned about their health than before.

Coconut oil with its carcinogens was acceptable in the past for their daily diet, may now be thought of as a health hazard and substitutes may be on their mind. 

Coconut oil properly filtered by stone mills might be more in demand for cooking even if it costs more.

It is a good idea to export our Coconut Oil to the UK and Europe, where today after Coronavirus the price of Coconut Oil for use as a hair preparation has gone over the roof.

Coconut Oil as hair oil, in the British market stimulates hair growth, getting deeper into the follicles. Coconut oil promotes the scalp health fighting dandruff, moisturising dry hair during winter, it prevents split ends and contributes to hair length. Lushy,shiny, manageable and healthy hair can be yours with the benefits of coconut oil. 

Why not try replacing coconut oil or cooking and export it abroad at a premium?

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