A BRAZEN disregard for food safety issues has left the country on the brink of a serious public health disaster. The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority chair at a press conference in the capital pointed to the fact, as New Age reported on Sunday, that the food processing industry involved hundreds of thousands of businesspeople working under the regulations of many regulators. About 25 lakh people — about 15 lakh directly and 10 lakh indirectly — are now involved in producing, processing and manufacturing food. The policies followed by the handful of ministries responsible for the job is rather laissez-faire in nature. Despite the involvement of 18 ministries to ensure food safety, mainly emphasising on raising people’s awareness of safe food, the current condition of food safety, therefore, sends out a stark and acute signal that the action taken by all authorities was not enough. There remains a serious lack of comprehensive and coordinated approach in this regard.
From the beginning of food production to storing to marking, food is adulterated in a way that poses serious threat to public health. An excessive and uncontrolled use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, approved as well as unapproved, is prevalent. Carbide in fruit, formalin in fish, textile colours in sweetmeat and bakery items and pesticides in raw vegetables are used to increase the shelf life of food items and earn higher profits while cheating consumers. Children are the most vulnerable to such risks. The Department of Agricultural Expansion allowed, as New Age reported in July, the use of endosulfan, a pesticide that is banned worldwide, even despite a ban by the department in 2011, and permitted a leading agro-business company to import Endosul, a relatively less known endosulfan brand. It is evident that there is no unified authority, powerful enough, to take prompt and effective action to ensure food safety. If food adulteration continues for a long time, vital organs such as the liver and kidney can be damaged, even resulting in cancer. The government should, therefore, abandon its superficial approach and take serious a drive to stop food adulteration.
While it is important to make people aware of food safety situation and help them with information on how to treat adulterated food, it is not the root cause of widespread availability of unsafe food on the kitchen market. The government must address the root cause of unsafe food that is the enforcement failure of the government to govern food industry and the profit-seeking mentality of food traders. To make a change in this situation, institutions such as the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution and the DAE should be armed up adequately to monitor the food market. The enforcement of the Food Safety Act 2013 is also a must. A comprehensive and coordinated effort between different bodies is required to enforce related laws and regulations to ensure food safety.
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