Neither the government nor the businessmen in the country care enough about mitigating widespread food contamination, said M Akhtaruzzaman, professor at the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science, Dhaka University.
For example, had they cared about environmental pollution that occurs through direct discharge of industrial wastes that would not have gone unabated, he said.
‘We know that the problem of food contamination exists. We are also aware about its causes. But we refuse to act to prevent it,’ said Akhtaruzzaman.
He said that it was rather strange that the government could not force industries to treat their wastes before releasing it into water bodies in decades.
Industrial wastes are a major source of contamination of air, water and soil with heavy metals like lead, chromium and other contaminants, he said.
‘Contaminants spread through industrial wastes is finding their ways in food,’ said Akhtaruzzaman.
He said that thousands of farmers ventured into commercial farming over decades with the government still not having the means to train the farmers over safe handling of chemicals or other agriculture inputs.
The result has been disastrous with farmers applying antibiotics, growth hormones and many banned chemicals whimsically in rearing cattle, poultry and fish, he said.
‘Farmers are hardly aware about good agriculture practices,’ said Akhtaruzzaman.
Last year a government survey among cattle farmers around the capital revealed that cattle were regularly fed banned antibiotics mixed with the fodder.
The survey said that the farmers were under the impression that it would increase the capacity of the production of milk of their cattle.
Akhtaruzzaman said that the government should have acted immediately on controlling contamination of milk after it was revealed by a team of Dhaka University teachers that pasteurised cow milk contained heavy metals and antibiotics.
He said that the debate that ensued after hard evidence of contamination of milk was established simply made set aside by raising questions whether or not the contaminants exceeded the permissible limits.
‘Heavy metals and antibiotics should not have been present in milk at all,’ said Akhtaruzzaman.
He said that the government needs to act fast to ensure that farmers care about safety while producing foods.
‘To get safe food, we need to ensure we give safe food to cattle, to poultry birds and to fishes,’ Akhtaruzzaman added.
He also urged the government to engage universities to carry out a nation-wide survey on food safety to find out how dangerous foods have become for consumption.
He said that the government’s decision to formulate the act to ensure safe food was a turning point in the history of the country.
‘All the government needs to do now is to mobilise a dynamic group of people to implement the law,’ he said.
Akhtaruzzaman said that safe food cannot be ensured unless everybody played their role in keeping the environment clean.
‘It is difficult but not impossible to get rid of heavy metal contaminants already in our food chain if everybody is aware about it,’ he said.
‘Safe food can open a new door of foreign currency income for us,’ he said.
If the problem is not taken care of, he said, it would have disastrous health and economic consequences.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Interview