S Asia Sri Lanka Declares War On An Unlikely Enemy - Wheat

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Apr 4, 2005

Sri Lanka declares war on an unlikely enemy - wheat
By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Colombo

The government is urging people to use rice and wheat flour to make bread
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Some 2,000 bakers across Sri Lanka have been forced to close their businesses, the industry says.
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Some 2,000 bakers across Sri Lanka have been forced to close their businesses, the industry says.

The closures come as the government campaigns against the consumption of products based on wheat flour.

Eighteen months after defeating Tamil Tiger militants, the government seems to be intensifying its struggle against an unlikely enemy.

In recent days it has been banning wheat products from various public institutions.

Nationalistic elements of the governing coalition even speak of "wheat terrorism".

Wheat products enjoy great popularity in Sri Lanka - whether it is the rotis, widely eaten with curry, or breads, cakes and savoury pastries which are common here.

Now, though, wheat products have been removed from government hospitals, and fast foods - many made of wheat - have been banned from schools.

The government has also slashed a subsidy it used to apply to the wheat price.

It says this is because wheat is a foreign import, alien to an essentially rice-eating society and costly for its economy.

Opposition politicians like Sunil Handunetti accuse it of piling on the misery as food prices rise in general - and they object to the rhetoric the government is using.

"The cost of living is shooting up," he said.

"They've put up the milk powder price and increased the bread price four times. They even labelled bread-eaters as terrorists."

All Ceylon Bakery Owners' Association President NK Jayawardena, told the Colombo-based Sunday Times newspaper that hundreds of people who depended on the bakery industry, including bakers, have lost their jobs.

The National Freedom Front, one of the government parties, is leading the anti-wheat campaign.

The strongly nationalist faction says wheat is part of a "conspiracy" by multinational companies to undermine Sri Lanka's food security.

It is urging bakers to use wheat flour and rice flour in making bread - something bakers say is difficult to do.

The government also says phasing out wheat-based products will lead to healthier diets.

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