• Tuesday, Oct 26, 2021
  • Last Update : 03:33 pm

OP-ED: How to keep our food safe

  • Published at 03:33 am August 20th, 2021
vegetables
Photo: SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

It is high time the authorities took food adulteration and health security seriously

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has categorically declared that the government has zero tolerance for food adulteration and will take action against those involved. The High Court Division issued suo motu, providing specific measures which need to be taken regarding adulteration, and brought the issue to the forefront of the media.

Article 15 & 18 of the Bangladesh Constitution lists that a fundamental responsibility of the state is to secure the necessities of life, raise the level of nutrition, and improve public health. The Penal Code of 1860 makes food adulteration punishable under sections 272-276. After repealing the Pure Food Ordinance of 1959, the Food Safety Act of 2013 was enacted, which includes  the Formalin Control Law. While the introduction of the law could not eradicate crime, it did contain it somewhat.

Let’s look at some of the impurities in food, added to inflate profit. In milk, gowala started mixing water. Then, middlemen took over the milk trade, and without considering the consequences, replaced drinkable water with polluted surface water. When they got away with this, they began adding formalin to keep milk fresh for longer. This further motivated cowherds to inject animals’ pituitary glands with chemicals to increase milk output, despite long-term negative effects.

To fatten beef, feeding urea to animals and damaging their internal organs in the process is still going on. Chromium, lead, or leather waste is used as food, and excessive antibiotic use in poultry or fish farms is also prominent. Tampering with the expiry dates of packaged food, or refilling drinking water containers with impure water, or using peroxide to shine the containers -- these have become commonplace. 

While these chemicals can be used, they are being used excessively. Strong monitoring -- ie, from production or import to customer use -- by honest officials over a right check-and-balance system would reduce the possibility of abuse significantly.

Increasing consumer awareness must also be a target. Simple labs set up by municipal corporations in marketplaces, with basic equipment like digital meters to identify chemical compounds in consumer items could be helpful.

Adulteration not only ignores our constitutional right to safe food, but also endangers public health. Future generations could be seriously affected with vulnerable physical and mental growth. 

Impacts and inspections

The health of adults or aged patients with weaker  immunity is greatly affected. Understanding the impact of adulterated foods on health and the roles of concerned authorities in eradicating this malpractice is very important. Instead of constantly shifting blame, it calls for a united social movement.

I would like to propose that the premier business body FBCCI initiate efforts to communicate in solidarity with the population. Easy and transparent facilitation, protection measures, action by business forums (like immediate suspension of Chamber Membership), and suggestions to bring a positive change over the net would play a vital role. For example, restaurant inspectors can be held accountable with the presence of video recordings of inspection.

The following is an elaboration of the action proposed:

  • A web portal cum mobile application of market monitoring.
  • Details regarding the incident, with date & time; specific complaints, detail of the enterprise and its owners/directors, details of consumers/buyers, business forum responses, the concerned government authority's response, and opinions of health experts can be included as part of each inspection. 
  • An option which allows Bangladeshi citizens to lodge formal complaints 
  • Complaints could be dynamic with constant updates
  • Accuser’s details are also required to control victimization.
  • The trade license issuer must respond immediately.
  • The authority's response to the findings.
  • Physicians’ reports of patients who were victims of adulteration.

A call center should support the data collection portal and a QA team should verify all the information provided, so that the site continues to grow over the years.

M Musleh Uz Zaman MBA is an ICT Management Professional. Email: [email protected]

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