Government’s call for food safety remains mere rhetoric

Published: 00:00, Feb 03,2020 | Updated: 00:50, Feb 03,2020

 
 

NATIONAL Food Safety Day was observed on Sunday with a call for steps against food adulteration and contamination. The day’s theme this year was: ‘Let us all join hands. We want assurance of safe food.’ Despite promises and assurances from ranking government officials, food safety has remained a major public health concern. In May 2019, the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution found some food items unfit for human consumption. Food items that they found unsafe are routinely consumed. But while the institution identified substandard food items, it took no action until a rights organisation moved High Court. Similar inaction was observed in cases of packaged milk. Since 2011, several brands of turmeric exported by Bangladesh were recalled for excessive lead concentration. Yet, the food safety authorities left the issue unattended. In this context the government’s call for food safety appears to be mere rhetoric.

Food safety authorities generally become active in Ramadan; they operate in a business-as-usual mode at other times, ignoring violations of food safety laws. In 2015, the government set up the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority but it has not been prompt on action against errant manufacturers. The Food Safety Authority and the Standards and Testing Institution have always cited the shortage of human resources and equipment as a major problem. They have talked about the absence of laboratories to identify food adulteration and contamination. Tests in private laboratories are dismissed by businesses as it happened in the case of pasteurised milk in 2019. In late July that year, pasteurised milk samples of 14 brands were sent to three local laboratories —Bangladesh Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Institute of Public Health and the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission. Findings of all state-funded agencies were different on same samples, which raised serious question.

Ineffective food safety measures and unregulated food market may result in higher prevalence of non-communicable diseases and higher public health expenses. The government must, therefore, put in more money to strengthen testing facilities. It must also define the role of different agencies dealing with food safety issues for a better coordination among them. The Food Safety Authority must also be active enough to routinely advise the government on food safety issues. Safe food would, otherwise, remain elusive for the citizens.

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