A curious case of standards testing incapabilities

Published: 00:00, Jul 16,2019


THE High Court’s order of Sunday for the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution to have pasteurised milk of 14 brands tested in four government laboratories in a week and to submit the reports to the court at the next hearing on July 23 speaks volume of the incapability of the national testing institution in even detecting spuriousness in food items. The court ordered the standards institution to have the pasteurised milk tested as the institution has told the court that it is not equipped to detect the presence of bacteria, antibiotics and detergent in pasteurised milk after the Centre for Biomedical Research and the pharmacy faculty of the University of Dhaka on two occasions, disclosed first on June 25 and then on July 12, had found ghee or clarified butter, fruit drinks, the powder of chilli and turmeric, palm, mustard and soya bean oil, and pasteurised and non-pasteurised of dubious standards and, therefore, harmful to public health. The university team which randomly collected samples of branded and non-branded products in August 2018–February 2019 noted the presence of three types of antibiotics in almost all the samples of pasteurised milk and the presence of detergent in three of seven pasteurised milk samples. In the retest, which was prompted by the repercussion around the first test results, the team found the presence of four antibiotics in the samples.

The standards institution — which said that only 18 companies have licences to market pasteurised milk in pillow pouches and the milk that the companies sell is safe for consumption when it submitted a report to the High Court on June 23 — few government functionaries and the dairy companies concerned came to criticise the team that carried out the tests under the leadership of the now former director ABM Faroque of the university’s research centre. The university research team also said that the national testing institution lacked the capacity to run tests on milk with the parameters needed to establish bacterial count, coliform count, staphylococci count, formalin, antibiotic, detergent and the acidity of food. The Standards and Testing Institution came up with similar objection to an earlier report that the Institute of Public Health conducted on milk samples collected in August–December 2018. The institute, which submitted the report to the court on May 21, found the presence of bacteria and lead in 96 samples of raw cow’s milk and 31 samples of cow’s milk sold in pillow pouches. The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority in December 2018 initiated an investigation of allegations of spuriousness in milk but the authorities are yet to publish any report on this.

The court’s order for the testing institution is welcome in that when a university research team finds problems with food items, that too in second-time tests, in the broader interest and for the greater good, it is imperative that the samples should be tested in some other laboratories as the national testing institution keeps raising objection to what even the national institute on public health finds to be true. The proposition of the Standards and Testing Institution, which lacks capabilities, appears to be a case of a good offence being the best defence. The institution must, rather, arm itself up to ensure food safety and safe food.

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