Rein in food adulteration  

Published: May 09, 2019 21:25:56 | Updated: May 11, 2019 22:10:40

That 47 food processing firms are producing dozens of substandard food items, which came to light in a recent drive by the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI), is no shocker given the almost invasive adulteration of foodstuffs in the country. The food items found to be either adulterated or entirely unfit for human consumption include mustard oil, drinking water, vermicelli, turmeric, chilly and curry powder, salt, ghee, flour, noodles and a variety of bakery products. In fact, it is no eye-opener for the average consumer that these products among many more are the potential suspects. Over and above, it is also no great revelation that most of these products are marketed by well known local firms having extensive country-wide network.

The obvious question thus arises is -- has the BSTI drive brought home any message for the people who knowingly or unknowingly consume these products? The answer, no doubt, is an emphatic no. Like many occasional drives against wrongdoings of various kinds, the fight against unsafe food, too, has assumed the character of a seasonal activity. Clearly, BSTI has chosen the month of Ramadan to run its drive more as a routine exercise than what one would have liked to see it as a round-the-year activity.  One has also reasons to question the rationale behind the drive in the capital alone. The effectiveness of the drive is bound to be self-limiting with actions against few firms producing these food items. The fact that such drives, sporadic and half-hearted as these have been, fail to bring any change in the country's food market must not be disputed. In the absence of corrective measures, punishing the offenders -- at times by way of hefty monetary penalties -- is not the appropriate method for correction. A properly institutionalised mechanism with sufficient manpower and regular monitoring round the year can only be expected to bring things to some semblance of order.

While contamination of food items may be due to negligence, deliberate adulteration by toxic chemicals or radioactive materials for long shelf life of products and increasing the volume in size and weight -- among the many crooked methods -- are so rampant that it is difficult to find anyone who does not encounter an unpleasant moment of food-borne illness at least once a year.

Taking care of the situation thus calls for a whole package of initiatives. In advanced countries, this involves producing, handling, storing and preparing foods in a way that prevents infection and contamination in the entire chain. However, in situations prevailing in this country, it is not merely about maintaining a clean chain but putting in strong deterrents so that criminality in the business could be stopped. Availability of the harmful stuffs must be discouraged, if necessary, by way of temporary bans on production. Strong advocacy on the detrimental effects of consumption should be routinely carried on. At the same time, there has to be a well coordinated effort among various government agencies to constantly monitor and guard against all sorts of food-related malpractices.

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