Each year food-borne diseases kill two million people globally; Bangladesh needs capacity enhancement to fight food contaminants and adulteration
It has been eight years since Bangladesh enacted a food safety act and six years since it established a food safety authority but consumers fear the presence of contaminants and adulteration in the food value chain is far from over.
There is no lab facility capable of analyzing trans-fat, no traceability mechanism in place to track food products, and no effective mechanisms to deter bacteria like – salmonella, listeria, and E. coli – from entering into the water and the food value chain.
To help Bangladesh advance a step forward in its pursuit to attain safer food for consumers, the United Nations’ specialized body Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has recently embarked upon a project to identify gaps and opportunities in strengthening the national food control system.
FAO has also plan to pilot some food safety indicators in Bangladesh like it did in China, South Korea, the Philippines, Bhutan and Cook Islands in recent years, officials concerned told Dhaka Tribune.
Officials at Food Ministry and FAO, Bangladesh office said, the UN body’s initiatives helped these countries identify important food safety indicators (FSI) thereby, identifying areas requiring interventions.
Bangladesh government and FAO launched on March 11 a program to identify FSI for Bangladesh, which officials said would help the authorities better tackle food safety challenges in near future.
For instance, an effective traceability is now in place in Bhutan that can track from end-to-end every egg the Himalayan Kingdom produces and markets.
Senior Food Safety and Nutrition Officer of FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Sridhar Dharmapuri said they will come up with a regional food safety guideline by next month, scale up pilots in China, South Korea, the Philippines, Bhutan, and Cook Islands and “will see how we can pilot in Bangladesh too.”
Department of Agricultural Extension’s senior plant quarantine official Md Shamsul Alam said European Union had slapped an export ban in 2014 on betel leaves from Bangladesh due to presence of salmonella.
Bangladesh Agricultural University Professor Dr M Burhan Uddin said ensuring traceability in milk and dairy products, eggs, and edible oils is extremely important for saving consumers from the danger of suffering from food-borne diseases.
Food-borne diseases kill an estimated two million people annually across the world, including many children in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
It has been estimated that the annual burden includes more than 150 million illnesses and 175,000 deaths in the South-East Asia Region, including Bangladesh, said FAO.
Dr Nazma Shaheen, who teaches nutrition and food science at the University of Dhaka, told a recently held workshop in Dhaka that truthful food labeling is crucial for food safety and labels should inform consumers about added sugars, trans fats etc. in processed foods. “However, in Bangladesh we do not even have a single lab that can analyze trans-fat in food,” she deplored.
Other participants at the workshop -- organized to kickstart the project on Developing National Food Safety Indicators for Priority Identification -- expressed concern over the presence of heavy metals in irrigation waters, other chemical contaminants, and lack of proper food safety certification and accredited lab facilities.
An exporter expressed dismay at Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution’s (BSTI) taking longer time and higher charges for quality certification of foods meant for exports. He said, “In India, they take only three days and a charge equivalent of Tk3,000 for such certification whereas, in Bangladesh we have to wait for 14 days and pay Tk16,000.”
Food contaminants, such as harmful parasites, bacteria, viruses, prions, chemicals or radioactive substances, cause more than 200 diseases - ranging from infectious diseases to cancers.
Food production has industrialized, and its trade and distribution have been globalized, and thus multiple new opportunities have been introduced for food to become contaminated with such substances.
Bangladesh demonstrated its strong commitment for safer food and enacted the Food Safety Act, 2013, with the aim of protecting consumers’ health by ensuring that food produced, imported, and marketed in the country observes food safety standards.
Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) was established on 2 February 2015 under the provisions of Food Safety Act, 2013, to coordinate all food control agencies along with the supply chain of food. As a single authority tasked to facilitate food safety activities in the country, BFSA is expected to work closely with multi-sectoral agencies.
FAO in Bangladesh conducted a brief gap analysis in December 2019 and identified three key areas – BFSA’s organizational development for coordination, private sector engagement, and data/evidence collection and utilization.