THE results of the tests that the Biomedical Research Centre and the pharmacy faculty of the University of Dhaka ran on ghee or clarified butter, fruit drinks, the powder of chilli and turmeric, palm, mustard and soya bean oil, and pasteurised and non-pasteurised milk are gravely worrying, both in view of public health and consumer rights, as almost all the food products, mostly of popular brands, have failed one, more than one or all tests keeping to the standards set by the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institutions. The nine-member research team of the university that randomly collected samples of branded and non-brand products in August 2018–February 2019 noted the presence of antibiotic of three types in almost all the samples of pasteurised milk and the presence of detergent in three of seven pasteurised milk samples and in one of three unpasteurised milk samples. The team also found the presence of banned artificial sweetener cyclamate in all of the 11 samples of fruit drinks in the ranges of 138.94–266.42 microgram per millilitre where official standard prescribes no use of cyclamate. What raises further concern is that the samples of clarified butter and pasteurised milk that failed the overall tests include the products produced by Milk Vita, the trade name of the Bangladesh Milk Producers’ Cooperative Union Ltd.
It is unpalatable, and unacceptable, that a public venture such as Milk Vita has produced and marketed clarified butter and pasteurised milk without conforming to official standards. This constitutes a crime committed on part of several government agencies as while the government agencies responsible for food law enforcement have so far not lifted a finger to stop food frauds, one public venture keeps producing substandard food. This calls for stringent action against the individuals and entities responsible. But what comes as a surprise is that the Standards and Testing Institution, when it submitted a report to the High Court Division on July 23, said that only 18 companies have licences to market pasteurised milk in pillow pouches and the milk that the companies sell is safe for consumption. The Institute of Public Health, which submitted a report to the court on May 21, however, found the presence of bacteria and lead in 96 samples of raw cow’s milk and 31 samples of cow’s milk sold in pillow pouches. Such propositions, which are conflicting, further raise concern for consumers. When government agencies come up with conflicting claims and a university study substantiates the claim that a government agency lays to milk on the market having been substandard, it becomes difficult for consumers to buy products. Here lies an added responsibility of the government to set its agencies, or their testing parameters, aright while it should goad the agencies into discharging their other responsibility which is to ensure food safety.
When some food products of almost all popular brands, even if randomly selected, fail one and all parameters of tests — which suggests that the situation might be the same with other food products that are not tested — the reason d’etre of the agencies mandated to ensure food safety and safe food rightly comes to be questioned. The government must find a way out of this mess of food frauds by enforcing the food laws — there are more than a dozen of them — and, if required, by overhauling the agencies.
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