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Towards a rice eating culture

RICE BREAD: The Bread Ordinance was established under Act No 12 of 1952 in which the sale of bread was expected to sell by weight which reads as follows:

Section 2 (1) Bread Ordinance

No baker or vendor of bread shall sell any bread other than fancy bread or rolls, except by weight and except in loaves weighing one-quarter of a pound, one-half of a pound, one pound, two pounds or four pounds avoirdupois.

Subject as hereinafter provided, no baker or vendor of bread shall sell any loaf of bread or expose any such loaf for sale, unless the weight of the loaf is clearly marked on the loaf by an impression made in baking, or on a band or wrapper affixed round or enclosing the loaf.

The only change that was brought about for the Act subsequently is the Act No 10 of 1983 in which the mode of weighing was changed but there were no changes with regard to the price. Section 2 (1) of the Act No 10 of 1983 reads as follows:

“No baker or vendor of breed shall sell any bread other than fancy bread of rolls, except in loaves weighing two hundred and twenty five grammes, four hundred and fifty grammes, nine hundred grammes or one thousand and eight hundred grammes”.

Accordingly it is only the weight that can be controlled on bread. The body that supervises weight is the Weights and Measures department which is the Authority that supervises that area of regulatory powers whereas CAA (Consumer Affairs Authority) regulates trade and the prices only when it is specified as an essential item under the Act.

On the other hand there are so many varieties of bread in the market which has prevented applying a uniform price structure for bread which is the common man’s stable food today though it is not the best.

There are number of varieties of fancy bread and ordinary bread. Bread is not necessarily made of wheat alone. The good news today is that rice bread, kurakkan bread and mixture of many other bread varieties which are beneficial to the human body are in the market at different prices.

The government institutions as well the private sector has taken the task of popularisation of rise flour in some way. The department of agriculture ITI, Hector Kobbekaduwa Research Centre and the branch of the Agriculture Department in Anuradhapura with the private sector have started the campaign of popularisation of rice flour to the Nation based on many factors.

The current Minister of Agriculture Hemakumara Nanayakkara who himself is an agriculturist has taken the burden today of this task and it is a good news that steps are been taken to set up a network of all related Ministries, organisations and individuals aiming at the target of reinforcing the aim to be a rise eating nation of home grown food consumers.

It is good for health and also for the preservation of foreign exchange. It will help the consumers and the farmers who struggle to meet their ends in providing the best food at an affordable price.

Consumer Affairs Authority too acting as a catalyst took measures in the popularisation of rice based products with the help of ITI Agriculture Department, Lake House and many other government and non governmental organisations.

It is an encouraging news that the consumers have realised that it is time to change their food pattern and food habits and eating habits.

According to the concept and the contents of Consumer Affairs Authority Act No 9 of 2003 the Price Control mechanism is replaced by price monitoring by regulatory powers.

The only instance where the prices are monitored is under Section 18 of the Act in which the traders are bound to seek permission from the CAA for consumer items which are declared as essential.

Wheat flour is an essential item specified under Section 18 whereby manufacturers, industrialists and the traders are bound to make applications to the CAA for price adjustments.

Bread in Sri Lanka is mostly made out of wheat flour which is a powdery substance derived by grinding or mashing the wheat’s whole grain. It is used in baking but typically added to other “white” flours to give nutrition, texture, fibre, and body to the finished product.

Usually, whole wheat flour is not the main ingredients of baked goods, as it adds a certain “heaviness”. This adds to the cost per volume of the baked item as it requires more flour to obtain the same volume, due to the fewer and smaller air pockets trapped in the raised goods.

The word “whole” refers to the fact that all of the grain (bran, germ, and endosperm) is used and nothing is lost in the process of making the flour.

This is in contrast to white, processed flour, which contain only the endosperm. Because the whole flour contains the remains of all of the grain, it has a textured, brownish appearance.

The cheapest bread available in Sri Lanka is the white bread which is processed from flour which contains only the endosperm.

All bran/ wheat are taken away for re-export which is the most nourishing part of wheat which is being consumed by average consumers worldwide as a stable food. In Sri Lanka whole wheat bread is expensive.

The price of bread and the bakery items is the talk of the town. The allegation of the public is that the bread is not price controlled. The price of bread is in the rise in par with the rise of wheat flour.

For a consumer product to be price controlled, it has to be categorised under Section 18 of the Consumer Affairs Authority Act by declaring it as an essential item.

The difficulty in this scenario is the availability of different kinds of bread and also the Bread Ordinance which has given specifications by weight giving minute and detailed instructions.

The steps are being taken to abolish the Bread Ordinance and to streamline the prices of bread to be more affordable to the ordinary consumers.

Even currently, though the Bread Ordinance and the Weights and Measures Ordinance give specifications, implementation has become difficult.

We have been a rice eating nation from time in memorial. Rice is the stable and the main food of most Asian countries which is healthier and contains more nourishing ingredients for the human body. It is cultivated in most parts of the country and we are self-sufficient in rice.

The private trade handles most of the paddy crops surplus in the country. Due to lack of proper marketing infrastructure farmers often sell their produce at prices less than cost of production.

The production forecast for 2007 to 2008 is at 2.2 Million Tons which includes a Yala crop of around 820,000 Tons and the Maha crop 1.3 Million Tons.

Rice continues be the preferred stable in Sri Lanka with around 28% of household food expenditure on rice.

Annual per capita consumption is around 100 Kgs. Wheat consumption continues to remain stable despite government focus on promoting rice consumption.

The rising cost of wheat, fish and vegetable which are traditional side dishes to rice based meals together with the convenience associated with wheat based products have helped to maintain wheat consumption level.

An increased number of bakeries and small and medium fast food outlets specialising in wheat based products have also supported wheat consumption. Average wheat consumption per household is placed at 3.1 Kg and 7.4 Kg respectively.

The only flour mill in Sri Lanka supplies most of the country’s flour requirements. This company has a milling capacity of 3600 tons per day and is one of the largest mills under a single complex in the world. Under PL 480 agreement in 2002 this company was able to upgrade its port operation which now has the capacity to berth larger bulk vessels.

In the year 2007 wheat imports are estimated at around one million tons. The import of wheat flour by other players is minimal other than the main supplier of wheat flour to the entire nation.

This company initially pioneered the first flour mill in 1977 by entering into a Built Operate Transfer (BOT) with the Government to set up a modern mill to help the country, a body which is a requirement of flour in the government controlling wheat grain imports.

The agreement was signed on September 17, 1977, the birthday of the then President J. R. Jayawardene with the initial investment of 54 million US$ which is the biggest foreign investment project in Sri Lanka to date which provides employment to over 3000 directly while its activities are supporting the income of thousands of more people.

In the UK wheat flour is most commonly used for the manufacture of food products although rye and corn flour too is used. The whole wheat grain is used to make whole mill flour. White flour is made using only about 75% of the grain while brown flour is made using about 85% of the grain.

Obviously there is a monopoly in wheat flour which is the base for bread and connected bakery products which has become a stable food of the nation after the introduction of bread to Sri Lanka in 1505 by Portuguese.

The medical advice is that bread is not the best food for human consumption which gives rise to number of diseases such as diabetics and blood pressure.

Moreover, when the best part of the wheat is taken away for export what is being consumed by the consumers in Sri Lanka is unhealthy, but consumers prefer bread and bakery related food items for convenience.

We have made a blunder in our history in 1505 by converting ourselves gradually to a bread eating nation whereby we spent a major portion of our foreign exchange when our own farmers are finding it difficult to sell their produces which are more nourishing and has been the stable food for us and the Asians for generations.

It is time for us to stop, look back and think back carefully to be a rice eating nation for the benefit of our country, our future and us.

The writer is Solicitor in England & Wales and Attorney At Law - Chairman, Consumer Affairs Authority, Convener Committee for International Law and International Relations - chairmancaa@sltnet.lk

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