The proposed expansion of operation by the Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institution (BSTI) at the upazila level should be considered a welcome development. Currently, its range and scope are stretched down to the level of six administrative divisions out of eight. So the standardisation body will have to go to the country's other two divisions and 65 districts first and from there to the upazilas. Clearly, it warrants capacity enhancement of a tall order. In its present shape, the BSTI is seriously handicapped in performing to its limit. It suffers from various constraints and on top of this its credibility has sometimes come under question-mark. Certification issued by it does not always carry the weight it should. In recent times an array of products like salt, cooking oil, butter and ghee produced by local manufacturing units and industries and certified by it were declared substandard and then after a few days some of those were cleared off. This is utterly confusing. The row over pasteurised or open milk has subsided without any announcement if it is safe for consumption.
In a country where adulteration of food and even medicine is reported frequently, it surely is a daunting task to enforce quality compliance. Even brand items are copied with look-alike logos in order to deceive consumers. The Food and Drug Administration in the United States of America enjoys an unrivalled reputation in maintaining quality of foods and medicines there. Why can't Bangladesh also go for such a strong and competent body in which people will place their trust so far as foods and medicines available in the market are concerned? This is a prerequisite for ensuring quality and healthy food for the nation.
Expansion in terms of organisational reach could make little difference if it is not backed by enhancement of laboratory testing facilities to match the modern high standards of certification. The sheer increase in volume and variety of consumer items has made protection of consumer rights much more demanding. When the row over the quality of milk was raging, the BSTI was known to have used tests on 10 parameters because it has only that much capacity. In India, milk is subjected to tests on 23 parameters. Clearly, limited capacity for testing an item makes a short shrift of human health and hygiene. Turmeric powder exported from Bangladesh to America was found unsafe for consumption. Usually exportable varieties are supposed to be of superior quality. If this is so, what the quality of the locally marketed varieties is, one wonders!
Reports have it that in village markets salt of much inferior quality without iodine is sold, spurious medicines are rampantly marketed and even fake toiletry enjoys bullish sales. If the BSTI could launch a drive to contain the malpractice, it would have come as a blessing. But to do this, the checking body has to be armed with required legal instruments, proper inventory and manpower. Above everything, it has to act professionally, thinking that, health and welfare of the people are in its hands.