August 21, 2013 / 9:58 AM / 6 years ago

Sri Lankan court summons Fonterra officials to face contempt charge

COLOMBO (Reuters) - A Sri Lankan court on Wednesday issued a summons to Fonterra Brands Lanka, the local company of New Zealand’s Fonterra and four of its top officials to face contempt of court charges for not adhering to an earlier ruling that banned sales and advertising of all Fonterra milk products.

An advertisement for Fonterra's Anchor powder brand is seen at a shop as a customer walks by in Colombo August 15, 2013, a day before the announcement on the ban of advertising for Fonterra milk products. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

The district court in Gampaha earlier had banned the sale and advertising of all Fonterra milk products for two weeks, following a complaint by a health sector trade union that the company’s marketing was misleading.

It obtained the court ban because Fonterra products suspected of being contaminated with the toxic agricultural chemical dicyandiamide (DCD) were still on the market despite an order from the health ministry to recall them.

Lawyers representing the health sector trade union said despite the court ban, Fonterra continued to distribute its milk powder products to retailers on Saturday and distributed leaflets on Monday saying its products were still fit for human consumption.

“They (Fonterra) are in contempt as they have not followed the court order,” Upul Jayasuriya, who appeared in court on behalf of the health sector trade union, told Reuters. “The judge has issued summons on Fonterra and its four directors for August 23.”

Officials from Fonterra Brands Lanka Pvt Ltd were not available for comment.

The island nation’s health ministry has said tests by Sri Lanka’s Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) found DCD in some Fonterra milk powders and it had ordered their recall.

Fonterra disputed the accuracy of the testing, but on Thursday told Reuters it had recalled two batches of Anchor-branded product in accordance with the ministry directive.

The Sri Lankan case follows a major global food scare involving New Zealand’s Fonterra, the world’s biggest dairy exporter, which said on August 3 some of its products could contain a bacteria that can cause botulism.

Potentially tainted products have been taken off shelves from China to Saudi Arabia while other countries took measures to restrict imports.

On Monday, the health ministry said it had decided to release a batch of milk powder made by companies including Fonterra after being held by ports on suspected DCD contamination followed by fresh ITI tests came negative.

Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Matt Driskill

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