Coordinating food safety actions

Published: October 02, 2018 21:28:48 | Updated: October 04, 2018 22:09:30

Poor enforcement in most cases notwithstanding, laws, rules and regulations are formulated abundantly in this part of the world. As far as food safety is concerned, the government appears to be hyper-active. Too many agencies have been engaged for ensuring 'food safety', and a section of businesses, the super markets, to be precise, allege "harassment". The Bangladesh supermarket owners association (BOSA) raised this issue at an exchange of opinion session with the media early this week. BOSA members complain that different government agencies engaged in the task of monitoring food safety practices send mobile courts to their establishments too frequently. This, they  allege, is "harassment."

The BOSA listed the names of at least five agencies, including the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) and the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI), which have been conducting 'raids' separately from time to time by their own mobile courts. In many instances, the super markets had to count a substantial amount in fines for their alleged selling of spurious or date-expired or stale food products. There is no denying that selling of adulterated foods and spurious goods is a criminal offence and whoever indulges in such an offence is liable to punishment under the law of the land. The super markets cannot expect any concession in this regard.

However, a few points raised by their association do deserve scrutiny by the government. The first point relates to the raids conducted by multiple agencies from time to time to detect the selling of unsafe foods to the consumers. Super market owners consider this practice a source of harassment and want an early solution to the problem. They have a point that the government should not ignore. After the formation of the BFSA, there should not be raids by any other agency in the matters of food safety.

The hard truth is that despite the so many agencies and laws the consumers are still exposed to adulterated foods. Intermittent raids by mobile courts have failed to create any visible impact on the situation on the ground. Most consumers who buy goods from markets other than super shops are more exposed to adulterated or contaminated foods. The government should keep in mind the old saying, 'too many cooks spoil the broth'. It needs to coordinate the anti-adulteration drive, preferably, under the leadership of the BFSA.  However, such a move is unlikely to pay any dividend unless and until the BFSA is strengthened logistically and allowed to work independently.

The second, yet important, issue mooted by the BSOA does also warrant serious attention of the government. The super market owners want a uniform testing and certification agency in matters of food items and consumer goods. The fulfilment of the demand is necessary, but it is unlikely to ensure marketing of problem-free goods. Allegations are there that substandard and poor quality goods manage BSTI certification through the under-the-table deals. Nevertheless, one cannot overlook the need for ensuring a minimum level of safety of foods that millions of people consume or use daily. This is the responsibility of the government, and it must act proactively and decisively.

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