PUBLIC health concerns related to food safety has almost never been addressed adequately. The situation in recent times has taken a turn towards the worst. Even before the problem around the artificial ripening of seasonal fruit particularly mango is properly addressed, the news of higher salt level in breads available on the market drew public attention. A number of research showed that salt level in packaged bread is higher than the level recommended by the World Health Organisation. Another research conducted by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University found that sodium intake by urban slum dwellers also exceeded the WHO recommendation. The researchers conducted laboratory tests on 10 popular brands of bread in the capital for a year and found them to contain, on an average, 503mg salt in every 100gm slice while WHO recommendation limits the level to 450mg. The study result, as New Age reported on Tuesday, reveals that the set of food safety authority — National Food Safety Authority, Institute of Public Health, and Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution — that are in order are not playing their roles effectively to monitor and regulate food processing industry, thus risking public health.
Leading researchers have warned that the public health consequences of such high intake of sodium would be severe as it raises the risks of hypertension, a major reason of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Their claim is in line with the epidemiological studies conducted by the International Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh and WHO that death from non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer and respiratory complications, soared by 7 percentage points from the 2008 figure to 59 per cent in 2012. The situation begs an immediate government attention. The authorities concerned must, on the one hand, make it mandatory for the packaged food industry to imprint the salt level on food products; a coordinated effort is, on the other hand, needed to create public awareness of the health effect of high sodium intake among the consumer of such food products. In addition, the government should take an immediate initiative to test bread and other products for salt level and strictly penalise faulty producers.
All the authorities concerned must, therefore, tackle the unregulated food market of Bangladesh as a high number of patients with NCDs will increase the state expenditure on public health. On an emergency basis, the government should define the role of different food safety bodies as it seems that there is a serious lack of coordination between them. It should also strictly enforce food safety laws. The formation of a national food safety advisory council as proposed in the Bangladesh Pure Food Ordinance (Amendment) Act 2005 should also be initiated to advise the government regarding food safety. Otherwise, an unregulated food industry would become a public health nightmare.
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