Compromised food safety puts public health at grave risk

Published: 00:05, Jun 22,2017 | Updated: 01:39, Jun 22,2017


THE gross violation of food safety in Bangladesh has become a major public health concern. Inadequate monitoring and poor enforcement of food safety laws have maximised health risks. Food items in the market, as New Age reported on Wednesday, contains toxins such as ammonium nitrate, ammonium bicarbonate, formalin and carbides and while restaurants do not follow the least of hygiene standards, fake and even banned pesticides find their way to the food production system. Even expired food items are repackaged and marketed. Food items, especially produced for children, are not spared either. Pigments used in dyeing are found in candies and chewing gums; ammonium nitrate, usually used in fertilisers, are found in sweetmeat and bakery items. An eight-month study conducted in 2016 at the National Food Safety Laboratory on 15 everyday food items found nine out of the products to be containing harmful chemicals at a dangerous level. With pesticide residues, colouring agents and formaldehyde in fruit and vegetables, public health at large is under a serious threat. Various government agencies, such as the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institutions responsible for regulating the food market, have been lax in enforcing food safety laws. Considering the health risk associated with a long-term consumption of toxic and unhygienic food, the government must act immediately.
There are other government agencies such as city or municipal authorities and deputy commissioner’s offices authorised to govern the food market. An official involved in the operation of a mobile court blamed the lack of human resources and technological incapability for failure to detect harmful chemicals in food especially in the current relaxed state of monitoring. While the number of mobile court to monitor food safety in the country are far from sufficient, they still play a significant role in controlling the food market. A team of scientists from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology blamed the unregulated marketing and the availability of harmful chemicals such as calcium carbide in open market as a contributing factor to the widespread adulteration. Safe food campaigners, however, allege that the illicit transaction between traders and personnel of other law enforcement agencies are at work in marketing unsafe food products. The government must, therefore, address the failure of the food safety authorities with no further delay.
Long-term consumption of adulterated and toxic food items carries the risk of cancer, kidney and liver diseases. Recent epidemiological studies in Bangladesh have already indicated an increase in the death and illness from the stated non-communicable diseases. In what follows, the government should technologically equip the mobile courts and the Standards and Testing Institution so that they could detect harmful ingredients in food products. It should also judiciously investigate the allegation of corruption within the agencies responsible for monitoring the food market. The government must show zero tolerance towards any violation of food safety laws. 

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