THE findings of the Food Planning and Monitoring Unit that the many rice varieties sold as miniket and najirshail are in effect over-polished versions of coarse varieties are worrying and a sign of regulatory failure as it has failed to detect deceptive strategies that rice millers and traders have used out of profiteering interests. The najirshail variety, the research says, accounts for less than 1 per cent of the total rice production, but roughly 80 per cent of the rice is marketed and sold as miniket or najirshail. The research conducted in 18 districts interviewed farmers, traders and agricultural extension officers and identified the source variety of the paddy that are later mis-labelled at rice mills. The paddy sources identified for the spurious miniket variety are BRRI 28, 29, and 90 paddy whereas the paddy sources for the spurious najirshail are BRRI 28, 29, 31 and a few other BRRI varieties. The findings reveal that the millers mill different coarse varieties together and label them under various names. Mis-labelling food items is a violation of food safety law and a punishable offence. Yet, such a violation has happened for decades.
Cashing in on public misperception that a whiter and finer variety is better, millers use whitener and polishing agents to completely remove bran, pericarp, seed coat, the aleurone layer and embryo from coarse varieties and, in the process, they empty rice of its nutrients and crude fibre. The reduction in the ash content makes rice break carbohydrate faster, releasing more glucose in blood which may lead to diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Bangladesh Food Safety Authority and food ministry officials have expressed their concern at the rampant malpractice and said that they will take steps to stop this. However, the violation of the law observed in the recent research of the BRRI is not new. An earlier Food Safety Authority study traced the origin of miniket, which was from an Indian paddy variety called shatabdi. Research findings by different non-governmental organisations, including UBINIG, have also made similar observations. A regulatory intervention has, therefore, been long overdue and it is welcome that the authorities have finally taken interest in addressing the issue, which violates the law and consumer rights.
The government must, therefore, share the research findings with all stakeholders and take action against the unscrupulous rice millers and traders. What is more important is to have an effective mechanism to oversee the entire process, from paddy collection to milling and ensure that the food value or consumer rights are not compromised at any of the stages. The government should under no circumstances tolerate such gross violation of consumer rights and allow traders to operate with a marketing strategy that is deceptive and lacks regard for public health.
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