BY Buddhika Samaraweera
The National Plant Quarantine Service (NPQS) has emphasised that it has sole authority to carry out quality testing on fertiliser to be imported into Sri Lanka and that no fertiliser can be imported based on the tests carried out by any other institution.
This statement comes against a backdrop where the Government has agreed to send the organic fertiliser samples from the China-based Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group Co. Ltd., which have been found to contain harmful bacteria on two previous occasions, to a third party and to retest their quality.
When contacted by The Morning, NPQS Additional Director Dr. Thushara Wickramaarachchi said that according to the Plant Protection Act, No. 35 of 1999, only the NPQS has the authority to check on the presence of harmful live organisms in fertilisers imported into the country and that no other third party has the authority to intervene in this regard.
“The Plant Protection Act does not provide for any third party to be allowed to test samples on this matter. Accordingly, no third party has the authority to obtain samples in such a case and even if they have obtained samples in some way and carried out tests, there is no legal possibility to import fertiliser or any other substance which may contain live organisms into the country based on such test reports,” he elaborated.
Dr. Wickramaarachchi further said that the country does not need a NPQS if imports are to be made in such a manner based on test reports conducted by third parties. Pointing out that the Plant Protection Act is being implemented to protect the country from harmful organisms, he said that only the reports of the tests carried out by the authorised officers of the laboratories belonging to the NPQS would be accepted.
“We don’t need the NPQS and its laboratories to allow imports based on test reports conducted through third parties in this way. We are more than 200% confident of our test reports,” he said.
Meanwhile, when questioned as to whether the NPQS still holds the position taken by it following the previous tests on these fertiliser samples from China, he said: “We carried out these tests in accordance with the international standards, using accepted methods of microbiology, and still hold the same position.”
Furthermore, when queried as to whether the NPQS would obtain any samples from the Ship “Hippo Spirit”, which is carrying 20,000 metric tonnes (MT) of organic fertiliser from China and has arrived in the seas close to Sri Lanka last week, Dr. Wickramaarachchi said that there is no legal ability to obtain such samples from the said ship.
“This ship with fertiliser has arrived in the country illegally without obtaining an import licence. Therefore, it is an illegal stock of fertiliser and we cannot legally intervene in such an illegal stock.”
Promoting the Production and Regulating the Supply of Organic Fertiliser, and Paddy and Grains, Organic Foods, Vegetables, Fruits, Chillies, Onion, and Potato Cultivation Promoting, Seed Production, and Advanced Technology Agriculture State Minister Shasheendra Rajapaksa told the media on Tuesday (26) that China had refused to accept the results of the tests conducted so far.
“They (China) said that the tests carried out on these fertiliser samples by the local agencies could not be accepted as they were not accredited laboratories. They said that this company in question manufactures fertilisers for about 16 countries, including Australia, Canada, and the US, and, therefore, asked us to understand the quality of these fertilisers.”
Accordingly, Rajapaksa said that the Government had agreed to refer these fertiliser samples to a third-party laboratory in order to ascertain their quality.
Following tests carried out by local testing agencies, including the NPQS, on the second set of samples of organic fertiliser made in China that have confirmed the presence of harmful bacteria in the said samples, the Agriculture Ministry recently decided not to import organic fertiliser from the said company.
Recently, it was reported that a tender has been awarded to import 99,000 MT of organic fertiliser made in China, and that its value is approximately $ 63 million. It was also reported that the stock of fertiliser could contain harmful microorganisms, pathogens, and even diseases harmful to the soil, plants, and humans.
A letter sent to the Fertiliser Secretariat by the NPQS on the test results of the first set of samples, which was seen by The Morning, stated that both fertiliser samples they received contained harmful bacteria. According to the letter, the samples have been subjected to standard microbiological tests to find out whether they are contaminated with culturable microorganisms. Accordingly, the letter sent by the NPQS read: “Sample was found to be highly contaminated with gram positive and gram negative bacteria. Preliminary studies revealed the bacteria to be Bacillus spp and Erwinia spp, which can be pathogenic to plants. The other was found to be contaminated with gram positive bacteria, which is also a Bacillus spp.” Therefore, the samples submitted for laboratory investigation are not sterilised, the NPQS concluded in the letter.