AN INCREASE in packaged and processed food import in recent years is worrying on at least two counts. Such an increase in food import is said to have been caused by people’s declining confidence in the safety and quality of local food and such import is a threat to the local food industry. While packaged foods are regularly imported under 19 major categories, the import and sales of such items have witnessed, as statistics show, a sweeping increase over half a decade. Bangladesh spent, as New Age reported on Saturday, Tk 170 crore in 2018–19 and Tk 200 crore in 2017–18 on importing processed food while it spent only Tk 77 crore on such import in 2014–15. Breads, biscuits, chocolate, pasta, pastry, cakes and cereal-based products are the major imported food items. Import data show that the import of gingerbread increased to 3,164 kilograms in 2019 from 324 kilograms in 2015, crispbread to 112 tonnes from 53 tonnes, pasta to 1,206 tonnes from 189 tonnes and chocolate to 1,214 tonnes from 526 tonnes in the period.
An increased import of packaged food is spurred by a growing demand for safe food among the people. The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority also observes that the poor quality of locally packaged and processed food might have influenced many to choose imported food. With food adulteration and contamination having been a pressing but largely unattended issue for years, and with poor standards testing, it is hardly surprising that many would go for imported food. What is worrying is that when countries are very proactive in ensuring safe and quality food, Bangladesh lags way behind. The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution has made the headlines for umpteenth times for its inadequacy in testing and ensuring food safety and for other irregularities. The agency is also reported not being able to detect antibiotic, bacteria and detergents in many food items. What is further worrying is that when the local bakery and confectionery industry is known for its sheer disregard for hygiene and safe mode of production, because of its use of harmful colouring agents and flavours and expired raw materials, standards regulation remains limited often to periodic factory raids.
The government must, therefore, attend to the issue of food safety and must equip its agencies, especially the Standards and Testing Institution, to ensure quality, hygiene and safety of local food. The local food industry must also be attentive to food quality and safety as people will go for safe imported food unless it can ensure food safety. The local food industry must also avail of the opportunity to export processed food to other countries.
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