Government agencies are frequently criticised by the public because of their perceived reluctance or refusal to perform their assigned tasks in service of the public interest. So when one of this much maligned group does stand up and deliver on their mission, they should be given due recognition.
In the last two weeks, Guyana has been bombarded with reports of an “infant milk”, imported by the International Pharmaceutical Agency (IPA) not meeting the standards of this country, enforced by the the Government Analyst – Food and Drug Department (GA-FDD). In accordance with its mandate and remit, as far back as March 7 of this year, the GG-FDD informed IPA of the deficiencies in compliance and issued a directive to the company to recall the product, labelled “LAILAC Infant Milk”.
There were two grounds on which the GA-FDD based its action. The first was the product’s noncompliance with Food and Drug Regulation (12) of 1977, which prohibits distributing a product in Guyana, that is not distributed in its country of origin. That regulation was ironically enacted in Guyana in the wake of the Swiss giant Nestle promoting synthetic “Infant Milk” in the Third World that was nutritionally deficient. Because of the higher standards maintained in the developed producing country, no usage in that jurisdiction triggers a prima facae case that the milk is not up to international standards. IPA admitted its LAILAC product was not sold in France, but only the Third World.
The second ground on which the GA-FDD based its recall order was more substantive and goes into the composition of the formulation that is being sold as “Infant Milk” by IPA. In attempting to come as close as possible to the composition of “mothers’ milk” some vegetable oils may be added to the cow milk base. However the type of vegetable oil used is crucial since after the oils and fats are digested the position of the resulting fatty acids in triglycerides produced impact on their function.
The fatty acid palmitate in human milk, for instance, is more easily absorbed than the palmitate found in the vegetable oils used as a fat source in formula milks. More dangerously some vegetable oils produce fatty acids that not only not absorbed at all and are excreted in faeces, but can be combined with glycerol to produce soaps and cause severe problems with the infants health. It is therefore a very strict requirement for the vegetable oils added to infant milk be clearly identified on the package or cans so that health authorities can gauge the safety of the product.
Some formula milk manufacturers use vegetable oils with an altered structure that more closely reflects that found in human milk, as this may aid digestion and improve calcium absorption. All of these requirements are spelled out in the Codex Alimentarius 1986 issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. The GD-FDD has pointed out that the LAICAC cans have no specific identification beyond the generic “vegetable oils”.
Since the expiration of the deadline as of March 22, IPA has continued to defy the GA -FDD’s directive and not even deigning to address the specific points raised by the Agency but simply disputing them. The senior Minister of Public Health has now been quoted as saying he will be “investigating” the matter, since he learnt of it through the press and he has also heard “the grievances” of business people.
The mandate of the GA-FDD is very clear and we hope there be no undue influence placed on it to reverse its legal stance.