A tale of heavy metals and mistrust among public agencies

Published: 00:00, Feb 19,2020


A HIGH concentration of heavy metals such as cadmium, chromium and lead that the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority detected in tests on 67 samples of pesticides in November–December 2019 comes with worries for farming and public health. The Food Safety Authority that finds 63 of the samples to have contained heavy metals, in cases even three of them in a single sample, says that some of the samples contain one milligram of the metal or even more in a kilogram or a litre of the sample of the pesticides that are widely used in growing major crops such as rice, tea and vegetable. The heavy metals with the possibility of gravely impacting public health are earlier reported to have been found in poultry and fish feed and fodder. Now the Food Safety Authority having found them in pesticides points to a general weakness of the government in pesticide import and production regulation. While the Food Safety Authority says that pesticides, which are poisons, should be pure as any impurity could make them disastrous, which experts in the Bangladesh Agricultural University in one way or another corroborate, the Department of Agricultural Extension finds nothing wrong with the high concentration of heavy metals in pesticides.

A Bangladesh Agricultural University chemistry teacher is reported to have said that no pesticides but for the ones that use heavy metals as their active ingredients can contain heavy metals. And entomologists and agricultural scientists say that pesticides that have heavy metals as their active ingredients are not in much use in Bangladesh and the presence of metals in normal pesticides is not acceptable. The import of pesticide is reported to be taking place without any examination as long as importers are registered with the Department of Agricultural Extension. As the Food Safety Authority findings could even by a small measure hold the Department of Agricultural Extension to account, a deputy director of the department’s plant protection wing seeks to say that, as New Age reported on Tuesday, there is no harm if pesticides contain heavy metals and the issue that has come up is ‘a conspiracy’ to destroy the country’s agriculture. The ‘conspiracy’ argument countering the Food Safety Authority findings well resembles what came up when laboratory tests detected problems with pasteurised milk in the middle of 2019. The Food Safety Authority, however, made the examination of heavy metals mandatory in the import of pesticides this January but it is reported to have postponed the decision until June reportedly under pressure. This is where the weakness of the Food Safety Authority has come at play.

After the Food Safety Authority has informed the Department of Agricultural Extension of its findings, the department is reported to have assigned a group of scientists to investigate the matter. This brings to the fore mistrust of a sort that exists between various public authorities dealing with the same issues and the absence of a testing mechanism that all government agencies could repose their trust in. While it is important that the Food Safety Authority should properly deal with the issue at hand, it remains important for the government to enhance the national mechanism of the examination of food and other related products and to put in sync all agencies dealing with food safety measures.

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