RANGOON — Burma’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has opened an investigation into nearly a dozen coffee factories in Rangoon over rumors of malpractice.
A joint committee formed last year by multiple local organizations—such as the FDA, Consumer Protection Association, Consumers Union and City Development Committee—made a surprise visit on Saturday to 11 coffee factories in Rangoon’s industrial zones, according to Zin Zin Nwe, director of the FDA’s Rangoon office.
Factories being investigated include makers of local coffee brands such as Super, Premier, Sunday, Gold Roast and Mikko. Zin Zin Nwe said that the FDA would reveal the laboratory results as soon as possible but that the process could take up to a week.
“Rumor has it that coffee factories were mixing powder made from coconut shells and tamarind seeds into their instant coffee mix,” Zin Zin Nwe told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
“Our teams collected traces of raw ingredients from the factories and had them sent to a laboratory to see if they contain any improper substances,” she continued.
According to Zin Zin Nwe, 12 coffee factories are registered with the FDA. Investigation teams were unable to check one of the factories because it was closed.
Maung Maung, secretary of the Myanmar Consumers Union, expressed some doubt over the veracity of the rumors.
“The cost of turning coconut shells and tamarind seeds into powder similar to that of instant coffee powder is more expensive than the typical mixing process,” he said, explaining that a small packet of instant coffee mix costs only 100 kyats (US$0.08) in Burma.
But the FDA results will ultimately substantiate or dispel the speculation, he added.
According to Article 28 of Burma’s 1997 National Food Law, anyone who produces, imports, exports, stores, distributes or sells food that may be poisonous, dangerous or injurious to the health of consumers could be jailed for up to three years or fined 300,000 kyats.
The surprise check was the third such investigation by the committee, and the FDA hopes to carry out similar actions in other parts of the country. Nevertheless, many local consumer organizations have criticized the FDA for not better guaranteeing food safety, though Zin Zin Nwe also explained that a dearth of human resources and laboratories has hampered the FDA’s efforts.