THE observation that a court dealing with cases of food frauds has come up with at a hearing, as New Age reported on Tuesday, is extremely distressing. The court says that the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution has destroyed all the evidence in cases against 61 food manufacturers accused of marketing 73 packaged food items, viewed unfit for consumption in May and June 2019. The state agency responsible for standards oversight collected 406 samples of 27 types of food product for laboratory tests and found 52 of the products, in the first phase, and 21 of the products, in the second phase, to have been substandard and, therefore, injurious to health. The products include ghee or clarified butter, coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder, the lachchha variety of vermicelli, butter oil, mustard oil, iodised salt, mineral water in jars, soft drinks and chips. The manufacturers include a few big names. The standards institution initially put on hold licences of almost all the manufacturers and then cancelled the licences of a few and allowed most of the manufacturers, in a week or so, to carry on with production after a second or third laboratory test which is purported to have found that the manufacturers have improved on the product quality.
The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, meanwhile, filed cases against the manufacturers of all the 73 food items amidst a public outcry as the standards institution was reluctant to move court against the manufacturers. Such a situation also prompted the High Court to make intervention. The court which has been dealing with the cases since then has found that the standards institution has not only destroyed all the evidence but also provided the public prosecutor with false information apparently to mislead the trial against the companies. The court has said that some of the addresses that the standards institution then gave to the prosecutor were not valid and in some cases the institution gave addresses of grocers or shopkeepers when the court asked about the addresses of the food manufacturers. The court has talked about six such instances where the standards institution appears to have misled the court. The BSTI director in charge of the standards wing, who appeared in court on Monday at the third summon, ignoring the previous two summonses in October and December 2019, has said the institution does not have any evidence of the food frauds by the companies as it destroys samples in 72 hours after tests, which the court resented about as no one can be prosecuted without the evidence and observed that the destruction of the evidence suggests a decision in advance of the institution of not prosecuting the companies in question.
In what has followed centring on the issue, the Standards and Testing Institution, which has committed crimes by way of being wilfully negligent of its mandated responsibility, appears to have been bent more on protecting the interest of manufacturers than looking into the interest of consumers. While it is expected that the court would seriously take up the issue, the government must attend to the issue and prove the worth of the institution’s existence even if this warrants a complete overhaul of the state agency.
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