Bangladesh Food Safety Authority only issues circulars in national dailies, and issues awareness posts on the social media.
It has no activity at the field level to check the authenticity of any allegations about the quality of foods.
Some of its officials attributed the problem to lack of manpower while some others claimed that they were not responsible for ground-level work, and that raising awareness through circulars was their job.
Earlier this month, there were reports that French company Lactalis had recalled its products over fears of salmonella agona contamination. The products were exported to countries, including Bangladesh and China.
The Food Safety Authority issued a cautionary notification in the newspaper against baby milk formula on December 14 but the institution does not know whether the milk products of Lactalis are still being sold in Bangladesh’s markets.
Md Mokhlesur Rahman, director of the Food Safety Authority, said they issued the alert notification after receiving news about the presence of salmonella in the baby food products.
“We have also warned the importer of this particular brand against selling the products,” he said. “But I do not know whether the product is still being sold in local markets. Shortage of manpower is preventing us from working at the field level.”
He said there were only 16 officials working at the institution. “We have already issued circular to recruit another 337 officials. It will be possible to work at the field level once this workforce is recruited.”
But the institution’s Secretary Md Khaled Hossain had other points. “Our aim is not to conduct raids or work at the field level,” he said. “Our goal is to make people aware through circulars and workshops.”
On December 19, the Food Safety Authority, in a Facebook post said they had been assuring that formalin was not currently being used in fruits and fishes.
It said formalin was hard to get hold of thanks to the amendments to the Formalin Act and import policy.
It criticized parents, who did not feed apples to their children citing reasons that the fruit does not rot if formalin is applied, for depriving themselves and their children of nutrition.
Formalin, a poisonous and anti-decomposition chemical agent, is used as an antiseptic, disinfectant and preservative in various items.
Food safety researcher Delwar Jahan said the safety authority should run tests themselves before issuing circulars or posting anything on social media.
“Maybe they are trying to raise awareness through circulars and social media posts. But elaborate tests are needed before any such announcement,” he said.
“There are two types of poisoning in food. Firstly, pollution, and secondly, the use of formalin in food,” Delwar said. “Although raids are conducted against food adulteration using formalin, there are not so many drives against preventing environmental pollution.”
When asked how the Food Safety Authority was sure that formalin was not being used in food, its director Mokhlesur suggested to talk to Secretary Khaled, who failed to give a proper reply.
There was confusion among the people about the presence of fake eggs in the market in July this year. On September 18, the Food Safety Authority issued a circular claiming that no evidence showing the presence of fake eggs or plastic eggs had been found till date.
When asked how they were sure that fake eggs were not in the market, Director Mokhlesur said: “Those involved in egg export and import and its business have told us that such eggs did not exist in the market.
“We issued the notice after that but we did not investigate the matter ourselves.”
When Secretary Khaled was asked the same question, he said: “Those who claimed that there are fake eggs in the market, could not provide sufficient evidence. That is why we issued the circular.”
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune