Unregulated food industry a public health nightmare

Published: 00:00, Nov 22,2020


FOOD safety remains still elusive as in almost all steps of food production, safety standards are compromised. There are documented evidences that the food come in contact with hazardous chemical substance or get adulterated in every stage. It is reported how the unregulated use of pesticide and chemical fertiliser has contaminated produces. There are reports that suggest metal and toxic wastes released into the earth by way of unplanned disposal find their way to cow milk. Studies show a high level of lead consumption as a result of prolonged consumption of some canned cooking oil and adulterated turmeric. In May 2019, the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution found 18 food items, including mustard oil, drinking water, vermicelli, turmeric, chilli and curry powder, salt, clarified butter and noodles to be substandard. With pesticide residues, colouring agents and formaldehyde in fruit and vegetables, public health is largely at risk. Government agencies, including the Standards and Testing Institutions responsible for regulating the food market have been lax in enforcing food safety laws.

The food minister acknowledges that food safety standards are regularly violated, but squarely blames the people for this as they do not care for safety. Rights activists, however, blame the government for its insincerity and business entities for the continued violation of regulations out of profiteering interests. The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority can hardly perform its role for lack of human resources. The agency has recently appointed 67 officers, but they cannot strictly enforce the Safe Food Act 2013 as the rules needed for the implementation of the law have not been worked out. Recently, a business group was acquitted of charges by a food court as the law does not provision for the prosecution of anyone for cheating people with wrong information about food in advertisements. The same court in January found that the Standards and Testing Institutions had destroyed evidence related to the prosecution of 61 companies accused of marketing 73 uneatable packaged food items. The food safety agency does not have an advanced laboratory. Only 73 processed food items need mandatory standards certification while there are hundreds of processed food items available. There has been no progress in setting the safe limits for food additives and other chemicals in industrially produced and packaged food. An illicit transaction between traders and enforcement officials appears to be at play in unsafe food production.

The government must, therefore, allocate adequate resources, financial and human, and strengthen testing facilities so that food market could be effectively regulated. In so doing, it must ensure that the legal process against the entities and individuals involved in food adulteration is conducted judiciously. The formation of a national food safety advisory council as proposed in the act should also be initiated to advise the government on food safety.

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