Thursday, January 31, 2008

GM Food labeling assures freedom of choice

Hemantha Withanage

A ll food items that contain Genetically Modified ingredients will carry a prominent sticker in near future informing that the product contains GM materials, giving the consumer the freedom of choice. This is a requirement under the regulations made by the Minister of Healthcare and Nutrition under section 32 of the Food Act No. 26 of 1980 published in Gazette Extra-ordinary 1456/22 dated 2006 August 03 . Defaulters of this law will have to face a six-month jail term or a Rs. 10,000 fine or both. These regulations shall come into operation on 1st January 2007.


Tropical Forest Conservation Act and Ecological debt

Appeared in The Island, Colombo October 01, 2003

By Hemantha Withanage
Environmental Scientist

The Sri Lankan government is planning to sign an agreement, under the US Tropical Forestry Conservation act, to bind Sri Lanka's forests for external debt, soon. Under this arrangement those forests will in future be managed by a committee comprising representatives from the US government, International NGOs other than local representatives. Would this be a question of sovereignty too?

Like any other developing country, Sri Lanka receives loans and grants from both multilateral and bilateral agencies, such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the IMF, USAID and the JBIC. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka’s foreign debt continues to increase.


Upper Kotmale Who is Right?

By Hemantha Withanage and Charmini Kodithuwakku

Originally appeared in Dailymirror in 2002

It's indeed a shame that Sri Lanka's most acclaimed natural waterfalls in the hill country will cease to exist soon, all in the name of development. The chronology of events on Upper Kotmale Hydropower project would raise so many questions rather than provide answers. The most important question of all, is whether justice was served to protect the greater interest of the public and the future generation in our country? If the approval process was carefully studied, then it would be an insight to the vicious cycle of approving a project even if it may contain disastrous consequences to the environment and society. Sri Lankan energy policy contains disastrous consequences to the environment and society. The policy caters to promote hydropower, as the CEB vehemently believes that it is the cheapest source to generate energy.



Originally appeared in FOE Newsletter in 2001

Water Privatization in Sri Lanka
The dictionary describes water as colourless, tasteless and odourless - its most important property being its ability to dissolve other substances. We in South Africa do not see water that way. For us water is a basic human right, water is the origin of all things - the giver of life. Poet Mazisi Kunene in "Water Is Born All Peoples of the Earth". Water is a valuable resource, vital to human life. Water is owned by the commons. South African water policy states that "There shall be no ownership of water but only a right (for environmental and basic human needs) or an authorization for its use. … Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient water." Today however, in many countries, including Sri Lanka, access to clean water has become very scarce due to human attempts to control and manage this natural resource.


Gullivers, Lilliputians and GM Food

by Hemantha Withanage

Appered in Biotechnology and Development Monitor NO48, December 2001,

In April 2001, the Sri Lanka Health Department, on the advice of its Food Advisory Committee, gazetted restrictions on the importation of genetically modified (GM) foods. Twenty-one products including a wide range of soy products (flour, textured vegetarian proteins, TVPs); corn products (flour, cereals); fresh tomatoes and processed tomato products; cheese, bakers yeast, beet sugar and microbiological cultures were mentioned.

The Sri Lankan Government annpounced that imports of food would have to be accompanied a certificate issued by an accredited laboratory confirming they did not contain GM ingredients. The Controller of Imports directed banks to warn their clients of these restrictions and to include them in letters of credit. These measures provoked immediate reaction from US government representatives and the WTO which resulted in the Sri Lankan government withdrawing the legislation.


Sri Lankan Struggle for keeping water public

Hemantha Withanage[1]

Water is a right! Water is a ‘common resources’. No one seems to confront this. However, ‘right to water’ means that everybody gets access to ‘free access to water’ is something that people engage in a debate. This debate is endless. However, how to manage water is a question that everybody is trying to answer.

Meanwhile, International Financial institutions powered by the water corporations are moving to engage making water a commodity. Manila water is run by a private corporation. Jakarta is same. However, despite the Asian Development Bank’s and World Bank’s strong pressure to adopt ‘privatisation friendly water policy’, Sri Lankan water is still remaining in the public hand. This is so far because of the civil society struggle for keeping water public.


ADB’s Future Strategy: Would It Really Matter to the Poor?

Hemantha Withanage[1] and Ronald Masayda[2]

NGO Forum on ADB

September 2007


The initial implementation review of and the multi-stakeholder consultations on the Asian Development Bank’s Long Term Strategy Framework (LTSF) bear close scrutiny and watching for instructive insights on the accomplishments or failings of the Bank’s anti-poverty agenda in the first five years. It is also important to carefully monitor and observe how the results of this review exercise would affect the Bank’s poverty reduction directions, priorities and activities in the next 10 years.

The ADB says the basic premise for the LTSF review are attributable to the changing regional and global trends to wit: unprecedented high rates of growth, global capital flows into the region, the co-existence of high rates of savings along with the need for high investment rates, and significant adverse environmental implications associated with the high growth rates. The undertaking, therefore, should give pause to the Bank to assess whether its over-all prognosis of a poverty-free region by 2015 is indeed reachable and realistic.