Even the spirit of Ramadan does not stop unscrupulous businesses from poisoning our food
The very spirit of glorious Ramadan is being tainted by a corrupt few.
Food producers are polluting their own products, poisoning their consumers, believing wrongly that they are at safe distance. What these producers fail to realize is that they are defrauding themselves. They are human beings too. But without spines.
Corruption and greed have become so deep-rooted that these adulterators ignore the possibility that their families could be harmed by their actions. The rather alarming issue is how we, as consumers, are on the verge of serious health complications, being exposed to adulterated foods.
The list of below-standard food producers was limited to a few unheard-of local brands until recently, when 52 products of some market rulers came under BSTI’s radar.
Upon a writ petition filed by a concerned lawyer of the Supreme Court, the honourable bench found it unsettling that despite a previous issued rule, such practices were still rampant around the country. It immediately ordered to remove the blacklisted 52 products from the market completely.
This created a massive awareness outbreak in social media. Netizens around the country expressed shock regarding what they had been eating all this time. It is indeed surprising to know how top brands entering the international market tend to comply even to the by-laws of foreign countries, but not even the basic standards when it comes to their own.
This brings us to one query: Are the laws of our country not strict enough, or the penalties imposed not harsh enough that they keep on doing what they are doing without fear? Violating our food in this manner is surely a violation of our human rights.
Bangladesh probably has the highest number of food regulatory laws in the world. It has 15 active laws, starting from the oldest, which is the Penal Code 1860, to the latest, the Food Safety (food hygiene) Regulations 2018.
Section 272 and 273 of the Penal Code 1860 make food adulteration an offense. The most relevant of these laws, the Food Safety Act 2013, imposes a seven year imprisonment and a Tk10 lakh fine for mixing life-threatening chemicals in foods. The Special Powers Act 1974 imposes death penalty for such offense as a maximum punishment. However, none of these punishments seem adequate for food polluters.
The government of Bangladesh has set a benchmark on regulating activities relating to food production. Through the Food Safety Act of 2013, it created the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, specifically given the task of monitoring food production and ensuring people’s right to safe food. In addition to that, the government had set up 71 courts across the country to try offenses under the 2013 act.
The act orders the creation of mobile courts run by executive magistrates who charged thousands of food producers and fined them for failing to meet adequate standards. Along with the mobile courts, the BFSA initiated colour codes for restaurants with the intention to rate them according to their standard.
This, in turn, created competition amongst restaurant owners to maintain the highest standard with the hopes of going higher in the rating scale. But how far can such an ambitious move alter the common mentality? Most Bangladeshi businessmen would jump at the opportunity where there is less investment and more profit.
The BFSA and the BSTI’s drive against food adulteration created awareness among consumers to choose wisely. Consumers now check their products twice before purchasing them. This creates a positive possibility of downgraded brands to be sidelined in the market. But even hitting rock bottom in sales would not make these local brands become conscious.
They are explicitly continuing their malpractice with a common thought process: “Bengalis can settle for anything when it comes to food.” I believe staying hungry is better than poisoning oneself.
It is indeed outrageous, witnessing the audacity of such businessmen, ignoring the highest court’s orders and continuing their misdeeds. They are even reluctant to pay heed to the government’s zero tolerance policy against them.
A country with so many laws on food safety should have no adulterators. But even in this holy month, they will not abstain from their greed. With no signs of stopping, it is best to amend the existing legislation to include the death penalty as a maximum punishment. If food adulteration goes on, our dependence on foreign products will increase, resulting in a complete breakdown of the economy.
Such practices can only be eradicated once we, as citizens, know our role and play our part. We must identify our common enemy.
Aiman R Khan is Advocate, Dhaka Judge Court.