MANY of the 52 food products, which the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution earlier this month found to be substandard, continue to be available on the market with the manufacturers claiming to have recalled them all by the seven-day deadline of May 18 and the regulators struggling to withdraw such products from the market. Consumers, however, continue to be harmed as the substandard food products could have a detrimental impact on human health. The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution and the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection seized some of the substandard products at different markets in and outside the capital city on Monday. The quantity of products that were seized is not that high and the places the seizure was reported from are not at all exhaustive, yet the way all this happened suggests that the products at hand, and more of what could not be seized, are available all over Bangladesh. On May 19, a day after the deadline for the withdrawal of the products had ended, most of the 47 companies that have produced the 52 substandard food products at a joint meeting of the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, the Standards and Testing Institution and the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection said that they had recalled the products.
But that, visibly, did not happen. When the substandard food products had still been on sale, even after the Standards and Testing Institution on May 2 declared them unfit for human consumption, the High Court Division on May 10 questioned the government’s role in ensuring safe food for people. The court rebuked the standards institution for running tests on food items only before Ramadan and not round the year and it also criticised the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection for doing almost nothing with the sanctioned human resources and logistics. Now that the court has goaded them into doing what the agencies responsible for food safety should have done on their own, it now seems that the agencies are not also competent enough to effectively withdraw substandard food products from the market. Food adulteration which is a serious public health concern and can compound the issue if left unattended, also constitutes a criminal offence that the government and its agencies by all means need to stop. It has also been the task of the government to ensure food safety from the beginning as if there are not many other food products that meet the standards, it would be difficult for the government to take them off.
Yet, the government must continue with its fight against food adulteration. In doing so, while it must make its agencies enforce the food laws stringently and make the Standards and Testing Institution and the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection work round the year, it must run continued awareness campaign among consumers of the negative impact of substandard products on human health and among sellers and manufacturers of the punitive measures that they could face by remaining involved in the production and marketing of substandard food products. It also needs to further empower the agencies responsible for food safety to deal with food adulteration.
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