THE Bangladesh Food Safety Authority coming to have found lead more than the permissible limit in 39 out of 73 samples of chilli and turmeric powder in tests conducted in August–September suggests that the daily dose of poison for people continues. The authorities, which had the samples collected from shops in the capital Dhaka and Chattogram tested in the laboratory of the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, have found, as New Age reported on Thursday, up to 37.29 milligrams of lead a kilogram in one of the samples while the standard limit is 0.4 milligrams a kilogram. Studies suggest, as a food science and nutrition teacher in the University of Dhaka says, lead consumption could hamper neurological development in babies still inside the womb; and high levels of lead in blood cause anaemia, cutting down on the work life span compared with that of healthy individuals. High blood lead level is also dangerous for pregnant woman and the foetus and possible problems, in this case, are said to be high blood pressure, spontaneous abortion, small babies and brain damage in the infant.
While anaemia remains a major public health concern in Bangladesh, with at least 60 per cent of mothers suffering health complications because of this, it appears to be of utmost importance for relevant authorities to stop food products tainted with lead more than the limit from being available on the market. But what beats logic is the delay that the government agencies responsible for food safety appear to be making in taking any stringent action about the issue. The delay is inordinate as this is not for the first time that a heavy presence of heavy metals is found in food items. The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution is reported to have found in May a high level of lead and other impurities in turmeric, chilli and cumin powders of popular brands. Two-thirds of the domestic demand for turmeric and three-fourths of the demand for chilli are met with import, which leaves a scope for adulteration as mechanisms to free imported items of impurities are completely absent. While local traders might also have tampered with the quality of spices that are imported, the local production is earlier reported to have been contaminated through the bioaccumulation of heavy metals by the plants especially when the government’s efforts for waste management has been reported not only to be poor in urban areas but almost non-existent in industry-intensive outlying areas. And the issues have now been not only about lead, but also other heavy metals such as chromium, cadmium, lead, mercury, zinc, copper, nickel and arsenic much higher than permissible levels not only in chilli and turmeric but also in other food items.
The Food Safety Authority — in the event of lead in turmeric, which is said to have anti-microbial properties, coming up in conversations — in the last week of September advertised its warning against the consumption of turmeric for a few days. But its plan on raiding shops and markets to stop the sales of harmful turmeric, which it said would begin in the week after, seems not to have been able to make any effective impact. The government must immediately act on the issue to stop the daily dose of poison.