THE processed food scene appears to have been severely fraught with frauds, almost deliberately effected in most cases, as New Age reported on Sunday, for businesses to maximise profits, aided by an overly lenient attitude of agencies responsible for adherence to standards that are ready to harm consumers than hurting businesses. The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution on May declared 52 food products manufactured by 43 companies, out of 313 samples of the collected 406 for tests, substandard and, therefore, unfit for human consumption because of high impurity that could have grave impact on public health. At least 18 of the brands have been household names for years and the products have all been certified and endorsed by the standards institution and the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority. As the court on May 12 ordered withdrawal of the food products from the market and destroy them, the helplessness of consumers intensified. While the standards institution took almost no early action and later suspended licences stopping the marking of the 43 food products and cancelled licences of nine other companies and the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection seized some substandard products, the Food Safety Authority did not lift a finger on the excuse of the shortage of human resources.
Consumers started becoming hopeless again as the Standards and Testing Institution withdrew the suspension orders in about a week after further tests of the products. Only seven small companies with factories in outlying districts now have their manufacturing licences cancelled. What raises further fears is that further tests of food products may have the suspension revoked but what will happen if the standards institution or the Food Safety Authority does not regularly run the tests on the food products in question? Even this time, when the standards institution declared the food products substandard, it did not make the report public and kept consumers in the dark about everything that happened. Lead residue is found, as New Age reported quoting from the test report, in turmeric powder three times the permissible limit, a high presence of bacteria is detected in drinking water, iron particle is found beyond the acceptable level in mustard oil, salt is found to be highly alkaline and having high moisture and excess fat is found in vermicelli and chips. The companies do this, it is feared, to maximise their profits and the food regulators, as a standards institution deputy director is quoted to have said, try ‘not to hurt businesses.’
The government and its agencies are blamed for having been ‘abnormally business-friendly’ and this has allowed food frauds to have continued so far. The laws are there — not a single, but more than a dozen of them — that empower authorities to ensure that no harm is done to consumers and public health by way of food manufacturing and processing and to force manufactures to adhere to sets of standards that the government has set. The regulators, instead, have all been up for the other way. The government must set its course aright, early and in earnest, for food safety and safe food.
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